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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Erica Take a Bow

Posted by on September 13 at 10:17 AM

When Erica C. Barnett returns from vacation, please stop her on the street and shake her hand—or give her a round of applause.

Erica was the first reporter in town to zoom in on the never-ending taxing authority in the mayor’s original $1.1 billion transportation proposal (and Nickels had a problem with the 35-year monorail tax?) …

Erica dubbed the tax the Forever Tax.

As the PI and The Seattle Times both blare on their front-pages this morning…The “Forever” Tax is no more. The council decided to scale it back to nine years for $365 million.

As Council President Nick Licata said, “We could not fight a sound bite.”

It seems that Erica “Sound Bite” Barnett has a future in political consulting.

In addition, you should thank the PI, who followed up Erica’s original story with a great front-page story last month on what they called: the Never-Ending tax!

Oh, and thank Tim Eyman too, who had formed a campaign against the tax called “Vote No on the Never-Ending Tax.”


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I agree! Every campaign that wants to put Seattle in the stone age under the banner of New Urbanism should hire her!

It wasn't a sound bite, Nick, it was an inconvenient fact. Finding and printing inconvenient facts is what reporters do. Erica rules!

Hey StrangerDanger...

Well, as you always say: It's all about the W, not the policy.

I read: L.

So, I'd say you guys got wasted.

Or has Harvard changed you? Are you now a little more grown up about prioritizing policy over Ws?

Me? I'm not going to Harvard. I'm not more grown up.

Again: Team Nickels. Chalk up a big L.

Josh you beat me to it. I was thinking exactly the same thing. It was excellent reporting by ECB, and it resulted in a more fair and limited proposal for the ballot.

It raises the question though of what kind of extra tax(es) would be imposed (instead of part of the property tax increase) on Seattle taxpayers if the tunnel option is chosen at the advisory vote.

When Erica gets back, if you editors think that same bug is going to bite her again, I've got a suggestion. She should try to figure out 1) how much taxes Sound Transit already has collected, and 2) how much MORE taxes than what it said in 1996 it would need for construction ($1,980,000,000) does ST now think it will need to complete that construction?

It's not that light rail or Sounder are bad things in and of themselves, but when you've got a government (one made up entirely of political appointees no less) that hides what its tax impacts are from those who are taxed you have got a situation that is subject to abuse.

Even a blind pig finds a truffle every now and again.

For me, the shock was that Ms. Barnett's political ranting was actually substantiated this time.

TWO TONS Wrote:
"....ST now think it will need to complete that construction?"


For completion of Phase One? Or are you lumping Phase 2 into this too?

Unfortunately the voters agreed to paying a never ending tax on Phase 1 when they initially voted for the Sound Transit. It was part of the language in the proposal presented to the voters. The media completely missed it and the voters were unaware. In essence, as long as Sound Transit Phase 1 is not officially "completed", Sound Transit, the entity, can continue to collect taxes until hell freezes over. It is completely open-ended and was the origin of the Forever or Never Ending Tax.

Funny thing too, I believe some of the same folks who have promoted the tunnel replacement and recent transportation tax may be the same folks who support and have overseen the spending on Sound Transit.

---Jensen

Yeah, I meant how much more in taxes does ST project it will need before it will have enough to pay for the construction of the projects approved in 1996.

I agree with you that what the voters approved in 1996 allows perpetual taxes, BUT those never-ending taxes ONLY can continue at a lower rate than what is being collected now.

What Sound Move says is that after the construction of the system is paid for, and assuming a second phase is NOT approved, the sales tax rate will decrease. The sales tax rate is now .4%, and ST will have to reduce it to a lower rate, one that is sufficient to retire debt and provide some operations and maintenance subsidy. That lower, perpetual rate will be MUCH lower than the current .4%.

TWO TONS Wrote:
"What Sound Move says is that after the construction of the system is paid for, and assuming a second phase is NOT approved, the sales tax rate will decrease."


That begs the question of just WHO will decide when construction is completed. As far as I can see, it is completely open-ended....somewhat like Iraq....we are expected to stay the course in a never ending construction job.....

---Jensen

Jensen, you wrote: "In essence, as long as Sound Transit Phase 1 is not officially "completed", Sound Transit, the entity, can continue to collect taxes until hell freezes over."

That is not true. ST can collect taxes at the current high rate until it has enough to pay for the construction of the system described in Sound Move. It can not keep the taxes at the current high rate just because construction has not been completed. That would be an abuse of its taxing authority. Think of it this way: if the cost of construction of what Sound Move contemplates is $X, ST can not collect twice that amount just because it hasn't completed construction. That would be an arbitrary action taken against the interests of taxpayers - it would be arbitrary because ST does not need 2X for any lawful, authorized reason.

Once it has what it needs to complete construction, and assuming ST2 is not approved, taxpayers have a right to expect that the sales tax rate will drop to the lower, perpetual level. Do you agree?

Jensen wrote: "That begs the question of just WHO will decide when construction is completed."

No, that is not the right question. The right question is: "How much additional taxes need to be collected in order to pay for (any) remaining construction costs?" Once enough has been collected for whatever it will cost, the taxpayers have an interest in the tax rate being reduced.

So obviously it is important to have ST disclose the following: How much additional tax revenue does ST anticipate it will need to complete the construction of the Sound Move projects? Once we know that, we'll know when to expect that the tax rate could be reduced!

Hardly and L. Wait till November after it passes with 58%. Then who has the L?

I don't know which is more pathetic: that The Stranger's "news" coverage has deteriorated into little more than sound bites, or that you're bragging about that lack of substance?

StrangeDanger,
If you're happy with what is being sent to the voters then: What was your beef with Erica again???

Meanwhile, what you're sending to voters is $735M less than what you wanted. (Actually, the package you guys initially sent to council was something like $1.6B ... So, really, you've gotten faced twice.)

Anyway, get back to class.

Erika, great job!

I'm now going to push for the modified tax, since they met all the objections and I know it can't be stolen for Greg's Underwater Tunnel.

Very cool work!

oh, and I should point out the concrete strike/shortage has been way more impactful in delaying ST construction than anything else. Luckily, the Space in Fremont artwork has connections, so it's already got the spiral part of the interactive galaxy done ....


Two Tons, I think we have talking at each other as opposed to talking with each other. I hope you will accept my apology.

ST Phase One on time and on budget? Pure
fantasy, at best.

My original comment was made to point out to the gross cost overruns the project has experienced to date. At last estimate, I understand it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.34 Billion Dollars in excess of the original estimate approved by the voters in 1996. This is for a system that has been significantly shortened in miles and service and is years behind schedule. This is not the same project which voters approved in 1996.

The voters (we) allowed this to occur because we allowed in the measure for taxes to be collected as long as the project is not completed, or as you correctly pointed out, to pay for any remaining construction costs. It was open ended in the sense that it allowed for collection of taxes to pay for gross cost overruns with
marginal accountability.

Your points are vaild. Just when will Phase 1 be completed and how much higher-cost taxes need to be further collected to accomplish completion of the project?

I don't have an answer to that question. I sense we wouldn't get an answer until after the Phase 2 vote. However I do suspect, the media and voters will scrutinize any ballot measure for Phase 2 with greater detail and more caution after once being very badly burned.

---Jensen

"Actually, the package you guys initially sent to council was something like $1.6B"

Strangerdanger is someone in the Mayor's office?

ah! Strangerdanger is Marco (Hit and Run's Harvard reference - apparently everyone posting knows this but me).

I'm so stupid, now you (Marco) are gonna change your handle, aren't you? When will I learn to keep my big mouth shut?

At least you finally recognize that you're stupid (something that most who work on the 2nd floor have known for a long, long time). Self-realization and admitting your faults is always the first step.

Jensen: No way should ST keep that information from the public until AFTER the Nov. 2007 vote. There is no reason why ST should keep from the public the projections it now has regarding how much additional taxes need to be collected to pay for the (scaled-back)"phase 1" system's construction costs.

ST probably already has taken in about the amount of taxes it said in 1996 it would need, and since what construction remains already is well-circumscribed from a cost standpoint, there is no reason for ST to wait until after Novermber, 2007 to disclose what it already knows about those remaining costs.

Besides, the public has already been forced to pay billions to ST based on its promises on the 1996 ballot. Before asking for yet more neverending taxes, ST should disclose how low its 1996 projections were (it said it would need $1.98B). Seems pretty clear to me that the magnitude of that error would bear on whether a voter should trust some new set of projections about how much taxes will be needed.

Of course I can see why ST would want to keep that information to itself until after the ST2 vote. Right now only a few staffers at ST have access to the cost projections and how much additional taxes need to be collected to cover those costs. If that information came out, then everybody would know how soon the sales tax rate could be reduced if ST2 is not approved.

What ST is doing is greedy and wrong, it is not giving the public information about when the sales tax will roll back if ST2 is not approved. That means no one will have any idea when they would start reaping the financial benefits of voting "no" on ST2. ST wants to keep to itself the information that would allow voters to vote in a way that would LOWER the sales tax rate they are paying.

Um, why was my comment removed?

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