NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Hey, Seattle Times editorial board! Care to step aside and let Sound Transit 3 proceed?

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.

Con­sid­er this edi­to­r­i­al from Fri­day, April 9th, 2010, which began as fol­lows:

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.)

The Leg­is­la­ture grant­ed Sound Tran­sit’s request as part of the Con­nect­ing Wash­ing­ton pack­age, although not uncon­di­tion­al­ly.

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.

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