The raging debate over the true cost of Proposition 1 grew more heated today, with the release of new figures from light rail advocates that estimate the actual cost to taxpayers of this year’s Sound Transit expansion measure at only $2.8 billion—a full $15 billion less than the widely disseminated $17.8 billion figure that appears on the fall ballot.
The new estimate was arrived at by taking the actual cost of construction and financing, and projecting backwards 40 years to 1968—the year the $1.15 billion “Forward Thrust” rapid transit package failed with only 51% at the polls—and was released by a coalition of noted Sound Transit critics-critics, consisting of… me.
And if that seems like a flimsily sourced and, um, silly way to calculate the cost of a major construction project, well it’s no more flimsy or silly than the bizarre and totally unsupported $107 billion, 45-year cost projection the Seattle P-I’s Larry Lange used yesterday to fictionalize the notion that there is a genuine debate over Prop. 1’s actual costs.
But others argue the cost could be much higher than what Sound Transit has estimated.
Transportation planner and Sound Transit critic Jim MacIsaac estimates approval of the measure would authorize collection of more than $107.3 billion over 45 years, including $55.8 billion for the expansion, and the per-household expansion tax bill would be $284 annually next year and increasing in later years.
I’m an “other.” I’m a “critic.” Four times in his article Lange refutes Sound Transit’s math with the simple phrase: “critics say.” But who the fuck are these critics, and what the hell makes Jim MacIsaac any more credible than me?
Or even remotely as credible as Sound Transit, without a doubt the most audited and heavily scrutinized public agency in the state? The King County Superior Court judge who approved the ballot title accepted the $17.8 billion figure. The conservative Washington Policy Center, who opposes Prop. 1, accepts the $17.8 billion figure. Hell, even the pro-roads/anti-rail Seattle Times accepts the $17.8 billion figure. But some guy named Jim pulls a $107.3 billion estimate out of his ass, and you tell your readers that the true cost of light rail is “under debate”…?
I mean… what the fuck?
This is the worst sort of journalistic equivalency (or as Prop. 1 spokesman Alex Fryer called it, “54 column inches of phony debate“), the kind of lazy controversy mongering that all too often makes our news media worthless, if not downright detrimental to informed public discourse. You know, like when the overwhelming majority of climatologists agree that carbon emissions are warming our planet with potentially devasting results, but the media highlights the handful of dissenters in an effort to be “impartial.” Or when 99.99% of scientists accept the basic tenants of evolution, but reporters get tricked by the anti-science Jesus freaks at the Discovery Institute into “teaching the controversy.” Or when for decades, the tobacco industry sponsored its own faux-science in a conspiracy to lie to consumers about the safety of their lucrative product, and the media dutifully reported that the health effects of smoking were “under debate.”
$107.3 billion? Why not $200 billion? Hell, why not $700 billion… they’re all equally inpenetrable numbers, and Lange does little to explain, let alone challenge the assumptions on which Sound Transit’s “critics” base their patently absurd cost estimates. For example, Sound Transit estimates the proposed half cent increase in the sales tax will cost the typical household $125 a year, while “critics say” we’ll be paying at least $284. But as Erica C. Barnett points out on Slog:
If the “typical household,” whatever that means, actually spent $284 on a half-percent sales tax increase, that would mean that a typical household in the Sound Transit taxing area spends nearly $57,000 a year on goods subject to sales tax–which excludes food, utilities, and rent. [And motor fuel.] Considering that the median household income in the Sound Transit taxing area is only around $64,000, that’s a pretty hefty chunk to be blowing on clothes, iPods, and lattes.
Lange could have done that simple math. But he didn’t. No, some guy tells him the annual cost is actually 2.3 times higher than Sound Transit’s estimate, and Lange uses that as evidence that the numbers are “under debate.”
Well, I’m some guy too, and I say Prop. 1 will cost the typical household less than twenty bucks a year, so as long as the P-I is inviting crackpots and liars to the table, I expect to have an equal say in this so-called “debate.”
I’m waiting for your call, Larry.