11 November, 2008

Seattle Proposition 1 - Reconciling the two sides

I just got done reading a P-I article, and the associated comments that readers had contributed, regarding the Sound Transit Proposition that just passed least week for Seattle. The story of Prop 1 and its proponents, and its opponents, is quite the epitome of Seattle infrastructure, and Seattle/Washington attitude in general. To take it at the highest possible level, I'll say this: "Washington is a strange state". It's a mixture of:
  • Very liberal, educated, moderately-to-highly affluent people (Seattle)
  • Very liberal, multicultural, not-affluent people (Seattle, plus non-Eastside suburbs)
  • Socially liberal, educated, fiscally conservative, highly affluent people (Eastside suburbs)
  • Socially conservative, fiscally conservative, less educated, rural, blue-collar people (other)

And I am probably missing a bunch of categories. But the big thing is that this state gets most of its tax dollars from the Puget-Sound area, because of the businesses that are here. People who live outside Seattle do reap the benefits of the state's wealth. People who live outside of Seattle like to come to Seattle to enjoy culture and (especially) sporting events.

But when it comes to ponying up for the pleasures of Seattle, in the form of taxes and infrastructure, people want to explain in a million different ways, why they shouldn't have to pay for Seattle to have public transportation.

Okay, that's one side of the story.

The other side of the story, unfortunately, is that (as far as I can tell) Washington state government seems to be highly ineffective, especially when it comes to matters of infrastructure. Money comes, money goes. We vote. We vote again. Initiatives are passed. Deadlines aren't met. Projects do not succeed. And then more voting, more money, and more projects get approved. A long time ago, when other West Coast cities were planning for the inevitable future that there would one day be a shitload of people living here, public transit came to places like Portland, and San Francisco. And if we look to the east, places like Chicago, and New York, and Boston established their elaborate transportation systems so long ago that those systems could practically be considered revolutionary engineering feats, when you consider that Seattle has accomplished little more than the SLUT (laughable), the Monorail (very laughable), and the light rail system of which I have seen and heard so little, that I am not even sure they've got trains to go on the few tracks they've built!

So, the people who have lived in Washington for a long time, and have learned to expect poor, or zero results from these projects, are getting tired of seeing each new bullshit project get approved by the young and hopeful liberals of the day.

There are criticisms that it's funded by sales taxes, since that is considered (by one opponent in the article's comments) to be unfair taxing of the lower income people. Here, I do not dispute. Sales tax, as a primary means of revenue, is a completely backwards system. I have blogged previously on how regressive Washington is (the most regressive in the entire nation!). But I don't think we'd be hearing the opponents changing their tune if we taxed income instead of sales.

The fact is, public transit is probably going to be an eternally sore issue in Washington due to the repeated failures to deliver on an agreed upon project. On the one hand, why should anyone want to fund projects with such a poor track record? On the other hand, how can we stop having the hope that we can improve things, when population continues to increase?

What really needs to be done is to find planners/contractors who have delivered excellent work in other parts of the country/world, and employ these people to oversee, or execute the project. While we would probably like to keep the tax money going to local planners and local contractors, the bottom line should be results. I don't know how these planning and bidding processes have gone in the past, and perhaps I will investigate that, and write further at another point in time.

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