I know it’s not supposed to happen, and it’s probably not in my self-interest to admit it, but every once in a while a great idea gets generated on the Seattle Times op/ed pages. If only indirectly.
Today the Times treats its readers to two status quo editorials, one in favor of a new Sonics arena, the other opposed to replacing the Viaduct with a hybrid-tunnel. According to the Times it is a good deal for local taxpayers to fork over $400 million in extortion money to build a hoops palace in Renton, but a bad deal to spend the extra $600 million required to bury the Viaduct and reclaim our downtown waterfront. Of course, the Times editorialists grew up with an NBA franchise and an elevated freeway, and apparently if that’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for our children.
My problem is not so much with their opinions — they’re entitled to being wrong — it’s with the arguments they use to support them. For example, in opposing the tunnel the Times contends that “the average citizen’s budget … is not unlimited,” but when it comes to a $400 million giveaway to a consortium of wealthy Oklahoma City businessmen, well, there are endlessly creative ways to tap our tax base:
The bill extends taxes mostly directed at tourists who are already being used to pay for Safeco and Qwest fields, and commonly used sales-tax credits to pay for the arena.
The tax with the most impact on residents, a restaurant tax, would stop in 2015, the year it was scheduled to end. The tax has preformed well enough to retire its portion of the bond payment for Safeco Field three years early and is expected to raise $75 million for the arena in its final three years. The Washington Restaurant Association supports the tax.
Hmm. Which got me thinking.
Ignore for the moment the Times’ deceitful insistence that “the state is not on the hook for the new arena,” when in fact those “commonly used sales-tax credits” come straight out of state coffers. And overlook the bullshit support of the Restaurant Association for a tax their members don’t actually pay. (Um… we, the customers, pay it.)
For if we cut to the chase, the Times has just inadvertently articulated a brilliant plan to pay for the extra cost of the hybrid-tunnel option: simply extend those apparently painless taxes already being used to pay for Safeco and Qwest fields… and put the revenues towards the tunnel. Combined with a couple hundred million dollars raised by levying a Local Improvement District tax on those property owners who stand to profit the most from opening up the waterfront, and
Mayor Nickels Seattle taxpayers can easily afford a tunnel.
The Times argues that “no acceptable plan exists for paying cost overruns on the tunnel” but Clay Bennett and his partners refuse to assume responsibility for cost overruns on their publicly-financed, privately-owned arena, so it’s really a wash. If there are cost overruns on the tunnel (and the Times ominisciently insists that “there will be”,) then we’ll just do what we’d do for the arena: extend those stadium taxes some more. Hell, we’re only taxing “tourists”, so really, what’s the big deal?
I totally agree with the Seattle Times when they argue that “this is a decision that should be made locally.” The Legislature should grant King County the authority to extend the current stadium taxes, but only if it also grants the county the authority to spend that money as its voters deem best. Now that we have a funding mechanism in place, let’s put it on the ballot and have voters decide how to spend the $400 million — an up or down vote, not between a hybrid-tunnel and an elevated freeway, but between a tunnel and a new Sonics arena.
So to my friends on the Seattle Times editorial board, I invite you to stand by your eloquent defense of local control, and join me in championing the Tunnel vs. Arena ballot measure. After all, it was your idea. Sorta.