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Friday, May 9, 2014

Can Seattle Property Taxes Fund Both Metro and Universal Pre-K? The Answer is Yes, But...

Posted by on Fri, May 9, 2014 at 2:05 PM

  • AH
In front of the cameras today at a city hall press conference, Mayor Ed Murray doubled down on his attack on "transit czar" Ben Schiendelman, who has filed a ballot initiative to save Seattle Metro by raising local property taxes.

"This is an individual that I’ve been told has never had a positive thing to say about me," Murray groused (again). "If folks only want to attack, I don't see how we can get to a place of collaboration."

The mayor added, “The fact that we’re having a pissing match in the progressive community among transit supporters is really a sad moment in this city's history."

Beyond the mayor's aggressive rhetoric, however—who started that pissing match again?—there's a fundamental policy argument between Murray and Keep Seattle Moving, as Schiendelman's initiative-backing group is called. The argument surrounds this question: Is the property tax the right revenue source to use for saving Metro?

So let's do some maths and figure it out:

Here in Seattle, we currently have 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in available levy capacity. But Seattle's parks and Pike Place Market market levies are expiring this year. When they do, that will add 25 cents more in levy capacity.

For a grand total of: 95 cents! (Per $1,000 of assessed property value.)

If we pass "Plan C" to save Metro, Schiendelman says, it'll take up just 22 cents of that capacity—leaving 73 cents for funding universal pre-K or anything else our hearts might desire! We have plenty of levy capacity to do both transit and pre-K. Which means the mayor's concerns just don't hold water, Schiendelman says.

He even confirmed those numbers with Ben Noble, Murray's budget office director, not long after the defeat of Proposition 1.

And in a phone interview yesterday, Noble also confirmed those numbers with me. "The voters are more willing [to raise property taxes] and generous than folks had ever anticipated," he says. "Next year, you could do the transit thing at 22 cents, and do pre-K...On the face it, there’s capacity for both of those."

The mayor's office won't tell me how much they expect universal pre-K to cost in terms of property tax increases, but Schiendelman is working off an estimate of 20 cents.

So, if pre-K takes up 20 cents of capacity, that would still leave 53 cents of capacity. In sum, Murray's own budget director appears to contradict the mayor's concerns that we can't fund Metro and pre-K from property taxes at the same time.

But, Noble added, "The trickier question is the transportation levy is up for renewal is 2015. Housing comes up for renewal in 2017...You can see how it could get tight."

And Murray said in today's press conference that he expects, in the coming years, an additional Family and Education levy as well as a Public Safety levy.

On top of all that, "If we go into a recession—and at some point in the next few years we will probably be in a recession—we will not only run out of capacity, we'll have to cut the levies we have passed," Murray claims.

For Schiendelman, all of that is a red herring. "We do have room for everything," he insists. Recession and levy renewals aside, given Seattle's ongoing construction boom, assessed value is only going to increase, he believes. (He noted he was on his cell phone and walking past downtown canes as he said this to me.) "Every year we get new capacity to use," Schiendelman says. "But we're nowhere near it right now."

The mayor's office finally, after two and a half weeks, contacted Schiendelman and Keep Seattle Moving today to talk about its own soon-to-unveiled proposal to save Metro—raising the prospect of this "pissing match" soon drawing to a close.

Meanwhile, at his press conference this morning, Murray reaffirmed that the proposal may include cuts to Seattle's Department of Transportation. It's hard to imagine that slashing SDOT to fund Metro, instead of using a progressive tax like the property tax, will enhance the mayor's reputation on transit. Still, Schiendelman says, "If it's decent, we're happy to support it. We need to have a look at it first."


Comments (28) RSS

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TheMisanthrope 1
Ben Schiendelman, don't you dare trust Murray any farther than you can throw him. He is not a progressive and a fraud. He's in the deep pockets of the wealthy and don't you ever forget it.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on May 9, 2014 at 2:14 PM · Report this
We desperately need an income tax.
Posted by frozenfrog on May 9, 2014 at 2:17 PM · Report this
Murray accuses others of starting a "pissing match", while he in fact is the one in the room standing with his dick in his hand.
Posted by mrjoe on May 9, 2014 at 2:21 PM · Report this
Oh for fuck's sake! There WAS no "pissing match" until Murray decided to start one by calling up all his buddies in the legislature asking them to withdraw their support for an Initiative they'd already publicly signed onto, apparently for no other reason than he didn't come up with the idea - or any idea - himself first.

What a petty, egotistical, thin-skinned, ineffectual, one-term mayor you are!
Posted by COMTE on May 9, 2014 at 2:22 PM · Report this
michaelp 5
To dive a little more into the weeds on this -

Levies that are six years or shorter can increase with property values (while anything longer is subject to the 1% cap). It looks like this initiative would be a five year levy, so that isn't an issue.

However, there is the issue about the impact on levy capacity in the event the Universal Pre-K becomes a reality, BtG is expanded next year, and the Housing Levy is increased again.

The cutting issue revolves around how our levy capacity is formulated, and if there is a recession, and property values go down, that reduces overall capacity. At one point during the most recent recession, capacity dropped by something close to $50 million per year. If there's only $25 million in capacity left, and that happens, then levies get cut, and promised projects don't happen.

I think some of the additional concerns revolve around the levy cycle, and what impact this would have as a new levy that is not part of the cycle.

Regardless, I do look forward to seeing what the alternative proposal may be, and what buy-in we see from elected officials across the region.
Posted by michaelp on May 9, 2014 at 2:23 PM · Report this
"The fact that we’re having a pissing match in the progressive community among transit supporters is really a sad moment in this city's history."

Welcome to Seattle, Ed. You ran as a progressive against another progressive. You pissed well enough to win that match. Meanwhile, Conlin, who is to the left of most Democrats in this country, and to the left of much of the city when it comes to housing, lost against another progressive (a progressive so progressive that she decided to call herself a Socialist). Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a debate on a $15 an hour minimum wage -- wasn't there some pissing going on there? (I think so).

If anything, Mr. Schiendelman has been calm and non-combative in suggesting a solution to the transit problem. This is more than I can say for you, or some of the city council members. If anything, the people who are pissing the most are the writers of this newspaper/blog -- but last time I checked, that was their job (to piss on the powers that be).

Just get a raincoat and live with it, Ed.
Posted by Ross on May 9, 2014 at 2:33 PM · Report this
I hope Murray gets over the fact that Ben supported McGinn and you know, helps save the buses. Its kind of a big deal.
Posted by JonCracolici on May 9, 2014 at 2:36 PM · Report this
Oh, and excellent article Ansel. I appreciate the hard numbers that clarify this issue. It isn't really about hitting the limit, it is about Ed being afraid that the city will fail to pass other initiatives (parks or Pre-K) after passing a transit measure. Fair enough, but I think Pre-K is a slam dunk. As to whether parks or transit deserves more money, I think the city can decide (I would vote for both).
Posted by Ross on May 9, 2014 at 2:36 PM · Report this
seatackled 9
"This is an individual that I've been told. . ."

Seriously? Ed Murray bases policy on rumors?
Posted by seatackled on May 9, 2014 at 2:37 PM · Report this
Posted by keshmeshi on May 9, 2014 at 2:45 PM · Report this
At this point I would almost be tempted to sign a petition seeking to replace Murray with Schell.
Give it another week of this arrogant little twat passing the buck and blaming others and I would sign that petition.
Posted by Pol Pot on May 9, 2014 at 2:46 PM · Report this
gttrgst 12
I would like to see either of them bring a "downtown cane" to a pissing match...or a sword fight.
Posted by gttrgst on May 9, 2014 at 2:50 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 13
You freeloaders are finally being asked to open up your wallets as wide as the mouths that demand premium government services while taxing the poorest of the poor!

It's hilarious to see how much wiggling is going on to squirm your way out of doing the only obvious thing...pony up for your "beliefs".

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on May 9, 2014 at 2:54 PM · Report this
What an awesome mayor we've elected. Immature, petty, in the pockets of the wealthy... good job Seattle!
Posted by andrew on May 9, 2014 at 3:07 PM · Report this
DOUG. 15
Is pettiness grounds for a mayoral recall?
Posted by DOUG. on May 9, 2014 at 3:28 PM · Report this
You're fucking with the wrong mayor.
Posted by Best mayor ever! on May 9, 2014 at 3:44 PM · Report this
Just because we have the capacity to raise taxes doesn't mean we should. How about lowering taxes. Hmmmmm
Posted by dannythedude on May 9, 2014 at 3:45 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 18
Fairly sure the Pope would be upset with Ed Murray's pro suburban Rich cars over working folks transit stance
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 9, 2014 at 3:49 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 19
@3 for Descriptive Rejoinder of the Day!
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 9, 2014 at 3:50 PM · Report this
kitschnsync 20
Thanks for digging deeper into the numbers, Ansel. It appears Murray's objections don't hold up to scrutiny.

I was a McGinn supporter. Once Murray was elected, I decided to give the guy a fair chance before passing judgement on him as mayor. Sadly, he hasn't done anything but undermine my temporary faith in him since taking office.

Murray is on track to be a single-term mayor. In fact, he's got me wondering... What exactly do the citizens of Seattle have to do to enact a recall?
Posted by kitschnsync on May 9, 2014 at 3:52 PM · Report this
meanie 21
That's quite a high horse he has if the mayor needs to call a city press conference to proclaim a single individual hurt his feelings by not asking his permission to fund busses.

what an A hole.
Posted by meanie on May 9, 2014 at 3:54 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 22
@9 - And we know about the reliability of what Ed Murray has been told.
Posted by MacCrocodile on May 9, 2014 at 4:03 PM · Report this
"This is an individual that I’ve been told has never had a positive thing to say about me,"

And that's the reason you oppose I-118? Good grief who have we elected to run our city?!!!
Posted by nwcitizen on May 9, 2014 at 5:04 PM · Report this
@22, well done! I love how Murray distances himself from Schiendelman as if he doesn't know him. This is personal for him, so transparent. How anyone could let these histrionics go given the drubbing McGinn received for less offensive behavior (in which I mean he may have been indelicate, but he was defending good policy or trying to push it through). Well, they say your second term is determined by your first 6 months in office, so let's all raise a glass in cheer.
Posted by Yeah You on May 9, 2014 at 5:28 PM · Report this
For Schiendelman, all of that is a red herring. "We do have room for everything," he insists. Recession and levy renewals aside, given Seattle's ongoing construction boom, assessed value is only going to increase, he believes.

Is Schiendelman really that ignorant of how assessed value and property taxes work ?

The city sets a tax that it gets X dollars based on the total assessed value of the city property. It may be communicated as a %, but that changes over time. The X dollars is divided out amongst the total assessed value of the city to find the millage rate, or Y% of your assessed value that you need to pay. If the city's assessed value doubled in one year then everyone would pay (Y/2)% but the total amount collected would be the same.…

Incidentally, that's half of why all of Seattle was going to be footing the property tax bill for Hansen's arena after it would be built and then put into city ownership with Hansen leasing it for 30+ years. The other half was basically because the MOU gave all the money collected from all our property taxes to cover the arena over to pay the arena bonds.
Posted by ChefJoe on May 9, 2014 at 8:59 PM · Report this
OMG. Less than 6 months in office and Ed Murray has revealed his thin-skinned prickness already. This is the same guy who used to interrupt us when we spoke at Senate Hearings in Olympia because we were, "Impuning the Character" of our opponents and that was SOOO not acceptable in Olympia. I guess the rules don't apply to him.

Has a sitting Mayor EVER gone after a member of the public who wasn't an elected official so aggressively? Even Tim Eyman gets treated better by public officials than this. Name calling by the Mayor of Seattle is really a new tacky tourist low for Seattle politics.

And his adding this, "The fact that we’re having a pissing match in the progressive community among transit supporters is really a sad moment in this city's history." is just a drama queen moment that is better left unsaid.

Memo to Mayor Murray: There have been pissing matches in the progressive community of transit supporters before. Have the monorail and light rail battles been forgotten so quickly? Talk about a years long pissing match amongst progressive transit supporters. It happens Ed. At least in a democracy that supports free speech.

Maybe you were thinking you were Mayor of Seattlestan.
Posted by RichardB on May 9, 2014 at 10:27 PM · Report this
27 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
You could be right, but that link is to a site explaining how the property tax laws of New York State operate. Im no tax lawyer, but it might be different here.
Posted by JonCracolici on May 12, 2014 at 12:52 AM · Report this

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