The Seattle Times Editorial Board Hates Taxes, Hates Public Employees, Hates Parks, and Hates Seattle

The Seattle Times editorial board (many of whom’s members don’t actually live in Seattle) weighs in on Proposition 1, which would create a Seattle Park District to manage and fund the city’s parks and recreation facilities.

SEATTLE loves its parks, and should have access to beautiful, safe and well-maintained urban green spaces.

Yes we do!

But in the name of good parks, the Seattle City Council is asking voters to give them a blank check, with increased power and weaker oversight.

We just don’t want to pay for them!

Citizens should reject Proposition 1, the Seattle Park District measure. This is not merely a replacement for the existing parks levy, which citizens have generously passed every six years. (Currently, property owners pay about 20 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value per year — or about $88 on a home valued at $440,000.)

It isn’t? Then I suppose in the very next sentence you are going to effectively describe exactly what Proposition 1 is:

As pro-parks community activist Gail Chiarello so effectively describes Proposition 1: “It’s pretending to be a Bambi, when it’s really a Godzilla.”

Um, what? I’m pretty sure that’s a non sequitur.

With the support of Mayor Ed Murray, Proposition 1 proposes a new, permanent taxing authority controlled by the City Council. Collections in 2016 would start at a total of 33 cents per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value (about $145 on a home worth $440,000), but the council could more than double that amount to 75 cents per $1,000, or $330 per year — without ever having to check with voters.

That’s not entirely true. Once the initial levy rate is set, the parks district would be subject to the same absurd one percent annual cap on regular levy revenue growth that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747 imposes on all taxing districts. It is unclear to me whether the Parks District would be born with banked levy capacity up to the maximum revenue that could have been raised under the 75 cent per $1,000 statutory cap at the time of the initial levy, but even if so, that banked capacity would not grow with property valuations. In fact, since property values generally appreciate at a rate much faster than 1 percent a year, the actual maximum parks district levy rate per mille will inevitably decrease over time without a voter-approved lid lift.

Either the editors are too stupid to understand that, or they are engaging in dishonest scaremongering, pure and simple.

Under state law, this district cannot be dissolved by a public vote. Neither would citizens be able to file initiatives against decisions they disagree with.

Which is true. But citizens already can’t file initiatives against parks decisions now! The mayor proposes and the council amends and adopts parks appropriations through the annual budget process. City appropriations are not subject to initiative or referendum. How the parks department subsequently goes about spending its appropriations is a purely administrative function. Administrative actions are also not subject to initiative or referendum.

Again, either the editors don’t understand the law, or they’re hoping you don’t.

Though a 15-member citizens’ committee would ostensibly provide oversight, the real control is with the City Council. The parks district essentially creates a shadow city government, run by the same Seattle City Council with the same borders as the City of Seattle, but with vast new authority to levy up to about $89 million in new annual taxes on the same Seattle taxpayers.

How is it a “shadow city government” if it is composed entirely of the actual city government? Its meetings and records are open to the public. Its members are directly elected by voters. What is shadowy about that.

In fact, if you read the interlocal agreement that is part of the formation of the Parks District, nothing at all changes about the way decisions are actually made. The city will continue to own the parks. The mayor will continue to propose parks budgets. The council will continue to amend and approve parks budgets (before passing it on to itself in the guise of the Parks District for a pro forma vote). And the city’s parks department will continue to operate the parks on behalf of the district. Other than adding a citizens oversight committee, the only thing that substantively changes is the taxing authority. Nothing else.

There are not enough safeguards to stop the council from diverting general funds to other causes, such as sports arenas.

No safeguards except, you know, the ballot, the same safeguard that already stops the council from diverting funds to unpopular causes. These are elected officials. They answer to voters. That’s the safeguard: democracy.

(Also, “sports arenas?” Really? Now they’re just making shit up. In editorial board interviews and other forums, Parks District opponents have gone as far as to raise the specter that a Parks District could build an airstrip at Cal Anderson Park! That’s how stupid these sort of paranoid fantasies are.)

Proponents promise yearly department audits, but only after the measure becomes law.

Because you can’t audit something that doesn’t exist. Duh-uh.

Why wait? The city should conduct a robust, independent performance and financial audit before even attempting to ask voters to trust them and sign a blank check.

The office of the Washington State Auditor conducts annual financial and accountability audits of the city—including the Parks Department—the results of which are all available online. There are no outstanding negative findings regarding parks operations. As for a performance audit, it couldn’t hurt; but neither have the state’s performance audits proven to help all that much either.

Citizens deserve to know how funds have been used so far, and how the city might invest limited parks revenue more wisely.

See, this is really the heart of the disagreement here. The editors believe that parks revenue should be limited, whereas Mayor Murray and the council disagree. All their talk about accountability is bullshit. What they are really arguing for is more austerity.

• According to The Trust for Public Land, Seattle Parks and Recreation is ranked second in the nation for the number of employees per 10,000 residents among the nation’s 100 most populous cities. City spending on parks ranks fourth in the nation. Yet, it faces a daunting maintenance crisis that has left some buildings dilapidated, pools unusable, bathrooms dank and even allowed a broken pump at Green Lake to leak raw sewage.

Shorter Seattle Times: It’s all the fault of those greedy, lazy parks employees!

To be clear, the Parks Department has eliminated 142 positions since 2008, about 10 percent of its workforce. Further, Seattle Parks & Recreations is almost unique in the nation in that it encompasses community centers as well as parks, thus skewing our employee per resident and revenue per resident numbers upwards. Indeed, if you read the TPL report in its proper context (instead of cherry-picking data and deliberately presenting it out of context like the editors do), what you see is Seattle’s parks rankings slipping year over year compared to similar-size cities, do to our lack of investment.

So let’s be honest. One of the reasons the Seattle Times consistently opposes raising taxes (again, taxes many of its non-Seattle-resident editors will never pay) is because they view every funding crisis as an opportunity to punish unionized public employees. Not enough money to meet our paramount duty to amply fund public schools? Fire teachers, cut their pay, and break their unions! Sales tax revenue shortfall threatening 600,000 hours of Metro bus service? Fire bus drivers, cut their pay, and break their unions! Initiative 747′s ridiculous 1 percent cap on annual regular levy growth strangling the city’s ability to pay for parks and other public services? Fire workers, cut their pay, and break their unions!

• Despite campaign rhetoric calling on voters to invest in fixing parks, Proposition 1 would dedicate only about 58 percent, or $28 million, of revenue in the district’s first year toward chipping away at the city’s $270 million maintenance backlog. Eight percent, or $3 million, would pay for maintaining facilities. More than a quarter of the budget is slated for new programs and expansion.

That’s 58 percent toward addressing the maintenance backlog and 8 percent toward avoiding adding to it. Yes, a big chunk of the remainder goes to “expanding” programs… but only within the context of several years of program cuts. For example, we’re talking about restoring community center hours and routine park maintenance and service that had been cut during budgetary lean years. Over anything longer than a one-year time frame, that’s not an expansion.

As for new programs, the proposed budget would develop and maintain parks at 14 sites the city had previously acquired, but never had the funds to develop. Also a new program: performance monitoring! The editors oppose spending additional money on the exact sort of accountability they insist must be delivered before spending additional money! Imagine that.

Seattle needs to care for current assets before amassing more. It also ought to expand partnerships with nonprofits and private groups willing and ready to help sustain recreation programs.

Or, hell, why not just privatize?

Preserving parks is critical to quality of life and public health.

But paying for it is not.

The mayor and council members are understandably eager to create dedicated parks funding and free up room in limited levy capacity for other worthy programs, such as universal preschool. But they have failed to make a case for a Seattle Park District that gives elected officials so much additional, unfettered power to tax and spend.

Again, bullshit. The power isn’t unfettered and there’s zero loss of accountability. What the editors are really opposed to is “free[ing] up room in limited levy capacity for other worthy programs, such as universal preschool.” They want to drown city government in a bathtub.

By rejecting Proposition 1, voters send a strong message to city leadership: We love parks, but return with a levy or alternate measure that prioritizes park needs, holds officials more accountable and preserves citizen participation.

Actually, it would send the opposite and most obvious message: that we don’t love our parks. And they know that. But the anti-tax/anti-government/anti-Seattle editors just couldn’t give a shit.

Let’s be 100 percent clear: For all the over-the-top vilification, the proposed Seattle Municipal Parks District is little more than an accounting maneuver. For a hundred years, this latent taxing authority has been left untapped because a prosperous Seattle didn’t need it. But I-747′s ridiculous 1 percent cap (less than inflation let alone population-plus!) has left the city unable to grow revenues commensurate with its needs.

A parks district would provide a stable and adequate alternative revenue source while freeing up taxing capacity for other crucial services like universal pre-school. And it would leave the parks department just as accountable as it is now, if not more so.

What the Seattle Times is arguing for is what its editors always argue for: a slow and steady decline and erosion of the public sector. Tell them to go fuck themselves: Vote “yes.”

Comments

  1. 1

    Joe Szilagyi spews:

    It would be awesome if editorial boards had to actually cite the primary author(s) of a piece, and which members of their boards agreed and disagreed with a given position. Did all ten board members agree with this? 7? 5? 3? 1? Just the ones named Blethen, who own and control the newspaper?

    It would be nice to know if an opinion if the opinion of the paper, or if this is a glorified letter to the editor.

  2. 2

    spews:

    @1 I have long come to the conclusion that unsigned editorials diminish the credibility of newspapers, and breed cynicism and mistrust amongst readers.

    What you suggest—something like Supreme Court decisions, with majority and dissenting opinions—would be much more honest and informative.

  3. 3

    forparks spews:

    Too bad you have the League of Women Voters unanimously and the Metropolitan Democratic Club overwhelmingly disagreeing with you on this!

  4. 4

    spews:

    @3 – The anti-Parks coalition:

    The Seattle Times
    League of Women Voters, Seattle-King County
    Queen Anne Coummunity Council
    NE District Council
    Seattle Community Council Federation
    Laurelhurst Community Club
    Central Area Neighborhood District Council

    The Pro-Parks Coalition (which grows almost daily):

    11th District Democrats
    32nd District Democrats
    34th District Democrats
    36th District Democrats
    37th District Democrats
    43rd District Democrats
    Alliance for Pioneer Square
    Allied Arts of Seattle
    Arboretum Foundation
    Aquarium Foundation
    Berger Partnership
    Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce
    Cascade Bicycle Club
    Downtown Residents Council
    Downtown Seattle Association
    Earth Corps
    ECOSS (Environmental Coalition of South Seattle)
    El Centro de la Raza
    Feet First
    Forterra
    Freeway Park Association
    Friends of Athletic Fields
    Friends of the Seattle Waterfront
    Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks
    Green Plate Special
    Groundswell NW
    King County Conservation Voters
    King County Democrats
    King County Young Democrats
    Laborers Local 1239
    Martin Luther King County Labor Council
    Nature Consortium
    Neighborhood House
    North Central Little League
    Northwest Ultimate Association
    Nube9
    Professional and Technical Employees, Local 17
    Recreational Adult Team Soccer (RATS)
    Sierra Club
    Senior Services
    Seward Park Audubon Center
    Seattle Fire Fighters Union, Local 27
    Seattle Human Services Coalition
    Seattle Neighborhood Greenways
    Seattle Parks Foundation
    Seattle Tilth
    Seattle Youth Soccer Association
    Skate Like a Girl
    South Park Neighborhood Association
    South Park Area Redevelopment Committee (SPARC)
    Southwest Youth and Family Services
    Student Conservation Association, Northwest Region
    Teamsters Local 117
    Transportation Choices Coalition
    Trust for Public Land
    United Association Local 32 – Plumbers and Pipefitters
    Urban Sparks
    Volunteer Park Trust
    Walker Macy
    Washington Conservation Voters
    Washington State Council of County & City Employees PAC
    Washington Bikes
    Washington Trails Association
    Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition
    West Seattle Green Spaces Coalition
    Woodland Park Zoological Society

  5. 6

    tensor spews:

    Nice fisking, Goldy. It again shows how the ridiculous has no defense against ridicule. About twenty years ago, a letter to the Times’ editor noted how many editorials decried liberal positions, programs, and politicians in Seattle, when the latter tended to get 70% of the Seattle vote, dead flat minimum. The Times’ editors really hate Seattle, and have for a very long time.

  6. 7

    RDPence spews:

    If a Metropolitan Park District (MPD) is such a wonderful funding tool for Seattle, why the steadfast refusal to discuss it in public, before putting it on the ballot?

    I followed the process that lead up to where we are now, and when the MPD idea came along, I urged the Parks Department and their Legacy planning committee to hold a public forum — where the details could be explained and citizens given an opportunity to ask questions and get answers. They refused.

    Life experience has taught me that when public officials really don’t want to talk about something, don’t want to answer questions, it’s probably for a reason. Thus my No vote.

    Rerun parks funding as a levy, and I will happily vote For it, as I always have in the past.

  7. 8

    Liberal Scientist is the "Most vile leftist on this blog!" spews:

    @4
    Interesting lists.

    In my experience, the Queen Anne Community Council is an incredibly corrupt organization. Not surprised they’re on the ‘anti’ park tax list.

    I’ve found that while some of the members were well meaning and honest, the chair and her henchpeople were essentially shills for business interests with whom they had relationships outside the council.

    Seeing that most of the ‘anti’ park list above is comprised of various community councils and a federation of such councils – seems that my experience on QA may not be isolated or unique. The QACC is a private 501c(4) organization that, in the words of one of its members to me…tries “to impact policy through working with city departments and elected officials”

    Seems like a business front organization wearing the sheep’s clothing of a group of concerned neighbors.

  8. 9

    forparks spews:

    Those opposed to the MPD are NOT anti-parks people!!! and you know it, Michael…. Shame on you!

    Oh, and please add the METROPOLITAN DEMOCRATIC CLUB to the list of groups that have voted overwhelmingly to recommend VOTE NO on Prop 1.

  9. 10

    Scott spews:

    “Once the initial levy rate is set, the parks district would be subject to the same absurd one percent annual cap on regular levy revenue growth that Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747 imposes on all taxing districts.”

    I think you mean Gregoire and Chopp’s 747. Those fuckers, and the rest of the dems who voted for the reinstatement, own that. They chose to fuck this state over to save their own asses.

  10. 11

    spews:

    @9 If you oppose stable revenue for parks, and instead support the Tim Eyman method of stringing together operating budgets for essential services (government a la cart!), you are not only anti-parks, you are a threat to parks for all residents of Seattle.

  11. 12

    spews:

    @8 – I’m sure you would be unsurprised to know that one of the enemies of parks, the Chair of the opposition campaign, is a QACC Board Member, and the treasurer for the anti-parks campaign is not only a QACC Board Member, but Chair of the 36th District Republicans.

  12. 13

    hbk spews:

    The opponents cling to their “we love parks” concern trolling because they know it’s their achilles heal.

    More than a year of public process went into Prop 1 – including public meetings and hearings at the City Council and Legacy Committee.

    Of course opponents don’t like the outcome because the Legacy Committee did not recommend impact fees on developers (!!), the only funding source they will ever support.

    Don’t be fooled: If you love parks, vote YES on Prop 1.

  13. 14

    djw spews:

    I’m still on the fence about this one but the Times’ ridiculously dishonest editorial pushes me closer to Yes.

  14. 16

    phil spews:

    @14 I was undecided too, but with the changes in the way the city council will be elected, I’m seeing more chance of real oversight from the members. The ST editorial is just icing on the cake.

  15. 17

    Toby Thaler spews:

    @16–I was one of the leaders of the effort to change City Council elections to districts (I am co-author of Charter Amendment No. 19). And I strongly oppose Prop 1. Not because the Times says “No” but because the Times’ arguments are correct. Just like the Times ed board was about CA19. And it sounds like you agreed with the Times on CA19 last November.

    A number of people (including Goldy) attacked CA19 because it was supported (with lots of $) by Republican Faye Garneau. Well, guess what, sometimes Republicans (and Libertarians and neighborhood activists) are correct. This is definitely one of those times.

    City Council district elections will not solve the problem of putting the Council in the position of an executive agency with NO oversight by the mayor or voters. None. The City Council is supposed to conduct oversight of the executive agencies; it should not be put in the position of BEING an executive agency.

    The Parks Dept’s track record of failing to properly manage the money it gets and the Council’s track record of failing to put sufficient maintenance funds in past levies does not justify making such a permanent change in the City’s administrative agencies and their oversight (or lack thereof). That’s why the LWV is 100% opposed. And the Met Dem Club.

    Many good government leftists told those cooking up the measure to use an independent board (like in Tacoma) if they wanted us to not oppose the park district. The Council adamantly refused to consider it or even have a public dialogue on the issue.

    The endorsements by the usual crowd do not make a bad governance measure appropriate. Opposition by the usual anti-tax crowd is not a rational reason to vote yes. Cut off your nose if you wish, but I’m voting no. Those who are paying attention to the long term governance issue–as well as the obvious intent to use the Park District to siphon new tax money to the waterfront, the zoo, and who knows what non-public interest enterprises over time–agree: Vote NO.

  16. 18

    spews:

    @17 I’ve no idea what your actual NIMBY objections are, Toby, but I’m not buying your bullshit accountability scare tactics. As I wrote, this an accounting maneuver, pure and simple, that gives the city up to .75 per $1,000 in additional property tax authority. How much of that authority is exercised, and how that money is spent, remains in the hands of exactly the same people it is in now: the mayor and the council.

    The city has been crushed under I-747′s absurd 1 percent growth cap along with a structurally deficient sales tax that shrinks as portion of our economy over time. That means it is mathematically impossible for the city to grow revenue commensurate with its economy or its need. A parks district would tap into this desperately needed unused taxing authority. That’s all it does. It changes nothing else. And it helps free up monies for other desperately programs, like universal preschool.

    I’ve no idea what your motives are, but I certainly know the motives of your Republican allies and their surrogates on the Seattle Times ed board: oppose raising taxes and shrink the size of government over time. That’s the Republican agenda. And you are abetting it.

  17. 19

    Toby Thaler spews:

    “I’ve no idea what your actual NIMBY objections are.”
    “Bullshit accountability scare tactics”
    “I’ve no idea what your motives are”

    Goldy, why don’t you respond to the substance of my post instead of calling names and bootstrapping your name calling into ad hominem arguments with no basis in reality? As I told you last fall under your rant against Charter Amendment 19 (council elections by district–http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/10/18/fuck-the-secb-im-voting-against-district-elections): “I’ve been a political activist for a while (was on 36th Dems Ex.Bd, now on 43rd’s), and since I don’t have enough money to buy power, I rely on my reputation for straight shooting democratic values, openness of process, and generally socialist political economic perspective (e.g., I’m supporting Sawant).”

    I also laid out my primary criteria for deciding my position on political decisions in Seattle: “There is nothing wrong with a dense urban core, but all the people in it deserve a say in how changes happen.” The proposed Park District is strongly contrary to this criteria; the majority of people will have significantly less say over how tax money is spent. The significant increase in the amount of taxes that can be raised is an issue, but not the main one for me.

    The MPD will lock in a revenue stream with a political structure most likely to increase economic and social injustice rather than address growing inequities in Seattle.

    And again, you say: “how that money is spent, remains in the hands of exactly the same people it is in now: the mayor and the council.” Under the MPD statute (RCW 35.61), the mayor has NO legal authority over the decisions made by the Council sitting as Park District Board. Prop 1 is a significant shift in the power balance between Council, Mayor, and Electorate with respect to a significant portion of the City’s parks functions.

    “the motives of your Republican allies”

    Yup, I’m just a sucker for those Republican values. Check out my resume (posted at my domain name) to see how right wing I’ve been for years.

  18. 20

    spews:

    @19 Read the interlocal agreement. Nothing changes in the way parks are run. The MPD is a fiction that contracts with the city parks department. The mayor proposes budgets and the council amends and approves. Just like now.

    Of course, yes, technically, the council could amend or dissolve the interlocal agreement. But they are an elected council! It would be political suicide to perpetuate the mayhem you imagine.

    This is nothing but an accounting maneuver necessary access untapped taxing revenue. That’s all this is.

  19. 21

    Toby Thaler spews:

    Thanks for your response. I disagree with your interpretation, but I hope you are right if Prop 1 passes.

    We’ll find out in a few years when someone is upset by some corrupt public-private deal the Council cooks up sitting as parks board to get around mayor and voters, and voters try an initiative or referendum to stop it. Remember Building 11? Same kinds of scams are sure to come up again.

    Prop 1 is basically a Charter Amendment changing the balance of power over Parks Dept without being forthright about it.

  20. 22

    spews:

    @21 As I’ve previously explained, there’s little if anything regarding the administration of parks that is subject to initiative or referendum now. Appropriations are outside the scope of the initiative process, as is the administration of existing policy. I suppose I could imagine some outrage that might be subject to initiative or referendum, but I can’t imagine our elected council members perpetrating it.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *