Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It may be Triple A, but it's the only game in town

Yes! I was accepted for the city services tax tacks ... er... task force! (We're still going to change the name.) This is like the only thing happening in the state in the realm of tax reform. I got a call informing me of my appointment along with an invitation to attend the Council meeting where they would be passing the resolution. It was quite the event.

The eleven of us arrived to a lukewarm greeting outside the Tacoma Municipal Building. Thirty or more picketers were crowded around the front door, union members not happy with a zero COLA and other elements of a contract proposal.

Inside, however, it was much warmer. There were nice seats reserved for us right up front in the Council chambers. We got to chat and exchange cards with each other and some of the Councilmembers came down to say hi. It was also tactful of them to put us first on the agenda and they had the grace to say some nice things from the dais into their microphones about our willingness to confront the daunting problems ahead and the seriousness of the mission and so on. Some of it sounded like encouragement for a suicide squad. Then we stood and introduced ourselves, and as a group turned to nod to whatever people might be seated behind us.

On a normal Tuesday at the Council meeting there are fourteen people in the seats, eleven staffers there for questions on ordinances and three citizens to take advantage of the open mike and free television exposure.

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that instead of fourteen, the place was packed. All those picketers and their families were now inside, holding their signs and looking at us. And they were happy to see us, too! I won't say they cheered or carried us from the room on their shoulders, but I do think it was more than polite applause.

Only later did I reflect that all those nice words from the Council may have been directed as much to them as us. Stressing the dire situation of the city's finances might have been a good way of softening up the opposition.

In any event, somebody indicated that we could leave if we wanted to, and we did. We congregated in the hallway outside, but pretty soon raised enough ruckus that the sergeant-at-arms came out and asked us to move along. We could show those union folks a thing or two.

This effort in Tacoma is just the first of many across the state, as cities get desperate enough to mention the "T" word (and I don't mean "task"). Eighty percent of Washington's municipalities face as grim a prospect as Tacoma, or worse. Many have had to make severe cutbacks already. And this is supposed to be a strong economy.

People do not realize the seriousness of the problem, but just as with the state's revenue picture, the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. Neither do people appreciate the importance of the services of state and local governments. These are not the accessories to our economy, but the frame, wheels and lubrication. You can't buy these out of the tip jar. Nor are they expendable. And they are good for the economy. Schools, roads, health care, police, fire protection, courts and the rest are "made in Washington."

We are lucky to have trade-related megamanufacturers like Microsoft and Boeing and Agriculture in our state, but even so, it has taken historic low interest rates and record borrowing to generate any job growth at all. Record personal borrowing. Record federal borrowing. It is not going to last.

We've got to come to some resolution of the problem of funding these most basic needs before the situation gets out of hand. Our new city manager in Tacoma has bailed us out with some skillful reorganization. At the state, the new governor is holding on with admirable determination to what little surplus she can find. We have about one more year. It's time to get to work.

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