A few days back I accused the Seattle Times editorial board of selectively championing taxpayers, “you know, when it suits its purposes,” so it was kinda amusing to see Joni Balter pick up the same exact meme in yesterday’s column attacking Mayor Mike McGinn: “A tax protector when it suits.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn worries that cost overruns on the downtown deep-bore tunnel will hurt taxpayers, so he plans to veto formal agreements related to the viaduct-replacement project.
To the uninitiated, the mayor is looking out for us. But the mayor is only a friend of taxpayers when it suits his agenda.
The same mayor said he wants Seattle residents to pay for light rail on the west side of the city — which is so full of pitfalls and unknowns it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more. And he wants light rail across the Highway 520 bridge, in addition to already-agreed-upon light rail across Interstate 90. Presumably, Seattleites and Eastsiders would be on the hook for this, though no price or source of revenue has been identified.
A tax protector one day becomes a big spender the next.
Pot, meet kettle.
Balter goes on to lambast McGinn for championing the Parks Levy that was widely passed by voters in 2008, a truly ridiculous argument that I was planning to thoroughly deconstruct before Slog’s Dominic Holden got there first, so I might as well just blockquote him:
She’s got it backwards when she says that McGinn is pushing expenses on taxpayers. Taxpayers signed up for the cost of parks and light rail (that the Seattle Timesopposed). And McGinn says that if residents want more light rail, the taxpayers would have to vote on that, too. But the tunnel tab is being pushed on taxpayers who didn’t sign up for it. In fact, the one time when the public had a say in a tunnel, albeit a different sort of tunnel, they rejected it. McGinn—like or dislike his politics or strategy—is trying to protect taxpayers from something they didn’t commit to. It’s not the same thing and nobody should be duped by this comparison.
See the difference, Joni? The Parks Levy and Link Light Rail, these were both approved by voters, as would be McGinn’s proposed in-city light rail extension, should it come into being. But the Big Bore? Not so much. Yeah sure, McGinn is opposed to the tunnel on ideological grounds, but he’s got a pretty damned good argument to make about protecting taxpayers from shouldering cost overruns from a state managed project they didn’t vote for, and that is the most expensive, least studied and by far the riskiest of the three major Viaduct replacement alternatives.
As Dominic further points out, Balter also dramatically overstates the cost to the city’s general fund of operating and maintaining new parks acquisitions ($160,000 in 2011, not the $750,000 Balter claims), but I think more shameful is the way she conflates by inference general fund revenues with those from special purpose voter approved levies:
In the next month or so, you will hear cries from all quarters about cuts coming to police, fire, libraries, parks and social services. Woulda coulda shoulda. What if we didn’t bless every spending measure that comes our way? What if we deferred park acquisition a few years? How many cops and library hours could we buy with maintenance and operating funds dedicated to new parks — an estimated $750,000 in 2011 and $1.8 million by 2015. A cop costs $100,000 a year and a one-week library closure saves about $650,000.
Perhaps Balter understands the way city budgets work, but I’d wager the majority of voters don’t, and columns like hers don’t do much to educate the public. The voter approved levies and sales taxes dedicated to things like parks and light rail have little or nothing to do with the general operating budget, which is almost entirely funded through the city’s statutory property, sales and B&O tax authority, not through voter approved special taxes. The two have nothing to do with each other.
Like the county, the city’s property tax revenues have been capped at one percent annual growth, thanks to the incredibly stupid and unsustainable limits imposed by I-747, and then reimposed by a cowardly legislature after that measure was tossed out by the courts. This forced the city to rely even more on sales and B&O taxes, thus exacerbating the revenue shortfall during this prolonged economic downturn. That’s the real cause of our budget crisis: a bad economy and an inadequate tax structure.
So to even suggest that our budget problems stem from parks levies and light rail is just plain stupid. Or disingenuous. Or both.