A Post About Something Inspiring. No, Really!

[ Justin Carder, Michael McGinn, Denny Onslow, Michael Patten, Tony To, and Knute Berger ]

It happened yesterday at a CityClub lunchtime forum on “Tough Times in the Livable City.”  A recurring theme in the discussion was the question of how, in a time of declining tax revenues, can we maintain the public services that are essential to livability, such as public schools and transit.

The first question from the audience came from City Council candidate Sally Bagshaw, who asked Seattle Great City Initiative Executive Director Michael McGinn where he would make budget cuts.  In the 2008 presidential debates, Both McCain and Obama repeatedly dodged similar questions.  But McGinn didn’t.

McGinn began by reminding us that voters rejected a roads and transit measure 2007, only to approve a transit-only package a year later; and also that in March 2007, 70% of Seattle voted against replacing the viaduct with a tunnel.  He went on to point out that apparently the State has an extra $2 billion lying around to build a tunnel, and then finished by stating, “I’d start there.”

The muffled oohs and groans that erupted from the audience were an indication of what McGinn certainly already knew — that most of the people in the room were supporters of the deep-bore tunnel, or if not, they at least understood that disparaging the tunnel is a risky political position to take.

In recognition of his willingness to state his beliefs, however unpopular they might be, I hereby award Michael McGinn the prestigious Hugeasscity Badge of Integrity.  Whether he likes it or not.

15 Responses to “A Post About Something Inspiring. No, Really!”

  1. The Overhead Wire

    You need to make a badge for that award. Like a family coat of arms or crest or something. Probably something like a lion in front of a skyscraper or riding transit.

  2. Gary

    McGinn was right on the mark.

  3. justin

    Tear it down, run more mass transit, and call it good.

    If the economy recovers and we still need it then we can always do so later.

  4. serial catowner

    So, in the world of making sense, what does McGinn mean? Does he mean he would cut the tax on gasoline so the $2 billion for the tunnel wouldn’t be collected?

    The money for the tunnel is state highway money which can only be used on highways. I don’t know if a lot of people simply don’t understand this, or if they have personal feelings that make them not want to understand it.

    Either way, it’s not very persuasive. For example, we also have over $500 billion in the war budget- why not spend that on schools and buses? Just one percent of that $500 billion would be more than twice as much as the $2 billion for the tunnel.

    And the last time I looked, the Constitution of the United States said the Congress could make no appropriation for the army for more than one year.

    When I hear McGinn start talking like that, then I’ll start pinning awards on his chest.

  5. JoshMahar

    @SC: I think the point that Michael tries to make, or at least what I think about when I speak with him, is that we simply can’t keep doing “business as usual”. We need to reconsider how we appropriate our money so that we can move towards a better, more sustainable future.

    Dan’s graph illustrated this wonderfully, but it is absolutely absurd that people must fight so hard to secure a decent education for their children, when we can throw so much money into a tunnel project with such little public support. There is something fundamentally wrong with that picture. Arguing that the law prevents a better distribution of public funds simply highlights the fact that our tax structure needs some serious overhaul so that our financial investments better reflect what we, as citizens, value most.


  6. serial catowner

    I know we can’t keep doing business as usual. I’ve known that since 1965. I’ve spent my entire life trying not to do business as usual. That and $3.50 will get me a cup of coffee. In fact, most everyone reading this is now rolling their eyes and thinking “Big deal! Who cares how long you’ve known it or what you’ve learned about it!”

    So, let’s ask if there is a serious response to “Where would you cut the budget”. Well, lo and behold, it turns out there is- bills in the state House and Senate to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor for which a simple citation is issued.

    There’s a simple answer that, by all indications, has the support of 60% or more of the public and would produce immediate budget savings at the city, county, and state level that mayors, county executives, and the governor could spend on anything they wanted to. I would have been impressed if McGinn had used his teachable moment to kick that can a little ways down the road.

    In fact, I find the Great City website to be impressive and interesting. I imagine I would cheer enthusiastically at 99% of what Mr. McGinn might say. But when it comes to assertions that the state has $2 billion just lying around that could be used for whatever we want, not so much. I’ve heard enough of that kind of talk already.

  7. Wes Kirkman

    Simply undo the law that makes it highway only money. “I don’t know if a lot of people simply don’t understand this, or if they have personal feelings that make them not want to understand it.”

    “Does he mean he would cut the tax on gasoline so the $2 billion for the tunnel wouldn’t be collected?” Heck no, raise it and/or change it to a percentage based tax, like most other taxes. If it is burning a hole in the state’s pocket, don’t spend it on another highway just for the sake of getting rid of it. Spend it on transit if taxes collected on gas must stay in the transportation world.

    Badge him up.

  8. Justin

    “Simply undo the law that makes it highway only money…spend it on transit if taxes collected on gas must stay in the transportation world.”

    With all due respect, I feel this statement is naive. While this may be something that we might all like, you cannot ignore the reality that we are part of a very diverse state. Even a lot of Democrats in the legislature wouldn’t support what you’re proposing.

  9. Wes Kirkman

    Understood that Justin, thanks for the naive comment. I was merely pointing out the ridiculous situation where we have pots of highway money and that people reading a blog, that in all its nature is progressive, are easily persuaded that the pot is magicked so that projects none other than auto capacity improving can use it. But hey, guess I am just being naive. No thanks, you can keep supporting spending trillions on the most pollutant causing aspect of our culture while lip servicing sustainability and green…and with a smile for you are not being naive or idealistic. You can really show your support by driving your prius solo to the Green Festival this year like everyone else will be.

  10. Justin

    I apologize if I offended you. I mainly took issue with your use of the word “simply.” I support what you’re proposing, but I think that such legislation would be in for a very uphill battle in the Legislature. That’s not to say that its not a battle worth having though.

  11. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    I’m all for change, but in 2006, only about $964m of the $2836m spent on highways in Washington came from gas taxes (the rest is a big mix of tolls, federal money, bonds, etc.). If you think gas tax money is a overflowing pot you are unfortunately mistaken. It barely covers 1/3 of highway costs.

  12. Tony

    As fun as a debate about the gas tax and amendment 18 is, THAT RESTRICTION IS COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT HERE.

    The Tunnel is NOT funded by state gas tax money. The State (though gas tax money) is putting $2.8 billion toward 99. That is enough money to FULLY FUND the surface transit option, including transit only lanes on most streets in downtown Seattle and the first ave streetcar, most importantly, the absolutely necessary seawall replacement, all PAID FOR.

    That same $2.8 billion covers only the cost of tunnel and thus leaves the city on the hook for $900 billion to fund the transit, surface street, and absolutely necessary seawall replacements. That $900 million in ADDITIONAL city money comes from the general fund or from NEW taxes. That $900 million could be spent on ANYTHING, including schools.

    McGinn is completely correct: this tunnel IS taking money away from other essential services, about $900 million away.

    Unfortunately, if even the hard-core policy wonks who read this blog have come to believe the LIE that the tunnel money is somehow exclusively highway money and thus could not really be spent elsewhere, then there is, sadly, little hope for McGinn’s principled campaign.

    Sorry about all the capitals, it’s 2 a.m. and I’m very tired. BUT NOT AS TIRED AS I AM OF PEOPLE MISUNDERSTANDING BUDGETARY FUNGIBLITY! :-)

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