Seattle City Council member and mayoral wannabe Tim Burgess called a press conference this morning by a pothole at the corner of E. Pike Street and Boylston Avenue to announce his new transportation plan: "Fix, Finish, and Plan for the Future."
"The city's transportation system is falling apart," Burgess complained while unveiling a plan that pragmatically promises to "fix what we have and finish what we started." Can't argue with that. I'm all for filling potholes. Just not exactly sure why Burgess needs to be mayor to do it.
It's an odd position Burgess is in: An incumbent city council member running against an incumbent mayor in a city with a pretty even distribution of power between the mayor and the council. Burgess charges that the city's street and bridge repair backlog has grown from $600 million to $1.8 billion on Mayor Mike McGinn's watch, while the city is spending only $2 million a year to fix sidewalks, far short of the $13 million annually SDOT says it needs to meet its modest target of fixing one-half of all Seattle sidewalks over the next 100 years.
Fair enough. But while the mayor proposes budgets, the power of the pursestrings remains in the hands of the council. And as chair of both the Budget Committee and the Government Performance and Finance Committee, you might think Burgess would already have some input into how the city prioritizes its spending. And you'd be right.
So is Burgess charging that McGinn is wasting the transportation money he has? Not really. "We actually run the city pretty fiscally conservatively," Burgess admits. It's more about readjusting our priorities, Burgess says.
For example, Burgess proposes moving from our current "complaint-based" system for repairing potholes to a more effective "grid-based" system. Burgess says that the pothole he was standing next to was passed by the city's "Pothole Rangers" on their way to fixing another pothole just 30 feet away. So yeah, I suppose there might be an argument to be made for crews fixing all the potholes within a vicinity instead of just jumping between the very worst ones.
But reprioritizing won't be enough to meet our growing transportation maintenance backlog. Burgess says he wants to prove to voters that the city can spend their tax dollars efficiently so that he can win their support for an even bigger "Bridging the Gap" levy when it comes up for renewal in a couple years. So I asked him: Does this mean Burgess wants to be known as the "Tax and Spend" mayor? "I don't have a problem with raising more revenue," Burgess replied, "if we're going to spend it wisely."
Again, can't argue with that. What I do worry about with Burgess is what he wouldn't prioritize spending our transportation dollars on. In his 900 word proposal, Burgess doesn't address transit until the final 150 words, and even then only to say that we should get more bang for the buck out of Metro buses. Not a word about light rail or street rail in his entire "Plan for the Future." And that's a statement about transportation priorities that should rub some Seattle voters the wrong way.