On Monday afternoon, for Tuesday morning’s newspaper, the Seattle Times published an editorial applauding Senator Reuven Carlyle for his recent pronouncement that he can’t vote for Sound Transit 3, while also scolding ST3 supporters for allegedly treating Carlyle “like a dissident in North Korea or China”.
The unsigned editorial, titled “Reuven Carlyle is right to be asking the driving questions about Sound Transit 3“, does not urge ST3’s rejection. Instead, it calls for “robust debate and scrutiny”. Nonetheless, the publication of this editorial was akin to a poker tell. It’s likely that within the next few weeks, we’ll see an editorial from the Times in which it overtly makes the case for voting no on Sound Transit 3.
I say this because if you’re a longtime reader of the Times, like I am, then you know that when Frank Blethen and his editorial team believe a public works project (or package of projects) is essential and needed, they adopt a very different posture than the one on display in this editorial. Reading it brought to mind many recollections of past debates over public works projects in the greater Seattle area — most of which the Times has weighed in on.
In particular, I was reminded of all the times that the Times told former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn to shut up and stop quibbling over public works projects already approved by the Legislature and the City Council.
McGinn’s view on megaprojects like the Alaskan Way and Evergreen Point Floating Bridge replacement facilities could charitably be summed up rather simply by one of the lines in this week’s editorial: Voters and elected leaders have a responsibility to ask if they’re getting the best deal possible.
But McGinn got no respect from the Seattle Times for being a mayor unafraid of trying to get what he thought was the best deal possible, even if that meant challenging what the Times calls orthodoxy. Instead, he got put down…. repeatedly.
Mayor McGinn should step aside and let the 520 project proceed
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is trying once again to stall the Highway 520 bridge project to assure that light rail could be included sooner rather than later. It’s time to move forward.
IN every public debate, in the run-up to every major project, the time comes to move out of the planning phase and into action mode. That moment has arrived with the Highway 520 bridge replacement connecting Seattle and Bellevue.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has offered the community a chance to consider, and reconsider, the possibility of slowing down efforts to retool the project to accommodate light rail. But he arrives very late to the party. Too late.
Sound Transit 3’s fate has yet to be decided by voters, but with respect to the financing of the package and the mix of projects it contains, the decisions have been made. Years of public outreach, consultation with cities, and debate in the Legislature over revenue authority are complete. Now the people will decide.
Senator Carlyle is free to critique ST3, but the best time to raise concerns about the financing was back when the Connecting Washington package was being negotiated. As Carlyle’s colleague Joe Fitzgibbon pointed out, Carlyle never introduced an amendment or proposed an alternative financing plan to his liking — nor did he oppose Connecting Washington when it came up on a final vote. But he is now saying he can’t support ST3 because his concerns weren’t addressed.
Curiously, 2016 Seattle Times wants to put Carlyle on a pedestal for “bravely stepping onto the stage” to say he can’t vote for Sound Transit 3.
Isn’t Carlyle arriving very late to the party? Apparently not, for he is skeptical of a public works initiative the Seattle Times does not like. And so it is the ST3 supporters who the Times hyperbolically admonishes — not him:
Carlyle rightly said the state and region need a coordinated strategy to make both our education and transportation systems world-class.
Yet for questioning the transit orthodoxy, Carlyle was treated like a dissident in North Korea or China. When there’s $54 billion at stake, members of the ruling party must apparently toe the line and keep quiet, at least until the election is over.
Toeing the line and keeping quiet was what 2010 Seattle Times wanted Mayror McGinn to do, though. Here’s the closing bit from that April 9th editorial:
McGinn believes what he believes.
But he is neither grasping nor respecting the enormous amount of regional negotiation and planning that occurred before he arrived. He needs to stop trying to block the Highway 520 project and get out of the way. This project is moving forward.
The following year, the Times had similarly strong words for McGinn and his supporters when the time came to vote on Referendum 1, an attempt to put the brakes on the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel:
McGinn, for lack of a more politically correct term, lied. He has done everything imaginable to stop the tunnel. He lent staff, his wife gave money and he provided mayoral cachet to the effort to secure the Aug. 16 public vote, the latest method of stalling.
But what about the rest of us average Joes who just want to get from, say, West Seattle to Magnolia or from South Seattle to the North End?
The Times went on to say:
Seattle is an hourglass-shaped city. For many decades, the city has needed additional north-south capacity to move people around.
Do not listen to those with Sierra Club beanies and numbers that suggest otherwise. There is no way Seattle could be better off without four lanes of the tunnel. That makes no sense in a city so narrow in the middle.
Seattleites should vote to approve the oddly constructed Referendum 1. Do it to move forward with commuter and freight mobility, for safety on a dangerous roadway and to cap an endless debate.
Hmmm. Given Seattle’s narrowness, given its hourglass shape, shouldn’t we all be enthusiastic about adding additional north-south capacity to move people around? Hey, what do you know — that’s exactly what ST3 would do!
The city itself would get new light rail service connecting downtown to Ballard and downtown to West Seattle. Other communities to the north and south of the city would also gain connections to the center of Seattle if ST3 is approved, because light rail would go all the way to Tacoma and Everett.
And isn’t it time to move forward with commuter and freight mobility? We could have an endless debate about what the proper mix of projects is, and what’s the best way to finance them. But then, we might never get anything built. Our region has a transportation choices deficiency because our public planning has been oriented around cars for years. It is time for that to change.
Sound Transit 3 is the result of a great deal of planning. The agency, which has a strong recent track record of delivering projects on time and under budget, commissioned research that found the people of the region are hungry for more light rail and want the opportunity to vote on a far-reaching package of rail and bus projects. Informed by this research, agency leadership has come up with a plan and submitted it to the voters for their consideration this year.
With respect to ST3’s financing mix: Remember that last time around, during and after the vote on Sound Transit 2, the agency was criticized for sending voters a plan that relied exclusively on volatile sales tax revenue to fund the projects in the package. The sales tax was the only revenue source Sound Transit had to work with in 2008, so that’s how we ended up in that boat.
Sound Transit leaders, listening to the critics and seeking to ensure ST3 would have more stable financing, approached the Legislature last year for the authority to (re)levy vehicle fees and also levy property taxes, so its next phase of projects would be less vulnerable to unexpected fiscal problems. (When sales tax revenue falls below projections due to economic slowdowns, it affects Sound Transit’s ability to deliver projects as promised to voters.)
We are in agreement with fellow activists and elected leaders who say that Washingtonians deserve progressive revenue options. We agree our state’s tax code is very regressive and needs overhauling. At the same time, we believe we must significantly bolster funding for our public schools, as the Supreme Court has ruled the Washington State Constitution requires us to do.
That is a job the Legislature must take on. Sound Transit’s job is building a regional transit system that empowers people to get where they want to go without being forced to drive to get there. Sound Transit’s options for financing this work are limited to what the agency can get the Legislature to agree to.
ST’s work is simply too important to be held up by our gridlocked, procrastinating Legislature, which regrettably continues to pass budgets that rely on gimmicks, fund transfers, and accounting tricks to balance.
Given all the work that has simply gone into getting Sound Transit 3 on the ballot (it’s been a rather long journey to get to where we are), we sincerely wish that we could campaign for it alongside our friend Senator Carlyle.
Though he has declined to endorse the campaign, we remain grateful for his willingness to challenge the status quo in the Legislature and push for better outcomes there. We truly need legislators who will stand up and demand tax fairness and corporate tax accountability.
We also need a robust free press to report on the issues, promote open government, and advocate for the greater good.
Regrettably, Seattle’s newspaper of record — which is controlled by the fickle Blethen family — has too often used its editorial space irresponsibly, in addition to occasionally practicing gotcha journalism. The Times has unnecessarily feuded with elected leaders, repeatedly antagonized readers with indefensible candidate endorsements, and seriously undermined its own credibility by backing right wing initiatives purposely intended to sabotage our public services and plan of government while claiming to want to strengthen those very things.
If the current editorial board of the Seattle Times really thinks that ST3 supporters are treating Reuven Carlyle like a North Korean dissident, then I wonder how they feel about their past treatment of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. The two editorials I excerpted from are just a sampling of a large number they published during the Mayor’s time in office that excoriated McGinn and his leadership team.
The Times tries to make it sound as though Carlyle is getting reamed for having the audacity to criticize “transit orthodoxy”. But most of the negative responses I have seen are activists registering their unhappiness with Carlyle because they think his argument against ST3 makes no sense, not because he has an argument against ST3. As Representative Fitzgibbon subsequently explained, Sound Transit 3 doesn’t poach potential funding from our public schools.
We, along with other ST3 supporters, are all for discussing priorities, seeking better deals and trying to coordinate major policies. That’s why we went down to Olympia to participate in the legislative process when Connecting Washington was being negotiated. It’s why we engaged with Sound Transit and showed up at the community workshops earlier this year and in previous years, when the Long Range Plan was being updated. It’s why we’ve maintained an ongoing dialogue with individuals and organizations who want to improve regional mobility.
As I’ve documented in this post, the Seattle Times has gone on record many times saying we have to get moving on highway projects. They have been very, very clear: we’ve had enough debate, let’s respect the consensus.
Strangely, though, when years of time and money are invested in painstakingly building a consensus concerning the future of regional transit, the Times has not wanted to respect that consensus. They were fiercely opposed to Sound Transit 2, and now it looks like they’ll be opposing Sound Transit 3. That’s a shame.
We’ll just have to overcome their opposition — again — since it’s unlikely they’ll step aside and allow us to proceed with investing in the transit our region needs.