4 to Explore: A Northeast Neighborhoods Newsletter

1 Issue to Engage

1 Issue to Engage

Yes to Soda Tax; NO To Arts Tax


It’s important to compare these two measures, because they say a lot about how local officials try to implement programs with your tax dollars. Leadership matters.

We have studied both proposals and offer our opinions here. In short, we think the Soda Tax is a good idea and the Arts Tax is a bad idea. But we also provide some principles and helpful links for you to decide on your own.

Note: The Arts Tax is on the August 1, 2017 ballot.  The Soda Tax will appear on the November ballot only if the Soda lobbyists challenge the recently approved city ordinance by forcing a referendum.

For all of us concerned about the rise in property taxes displacing longtime residents and senior citizens, the Soda Tax (which taxes certain sugary beverages) is a smart, surgically focused alternative to yet another property tax levy. The Soda Tax will simultaneously encourage healthier habits while raising funds for programs proven to help kids such as Nurse Family Partnership.

On the other hand, the Arts Tax is ill-conceived and low priority. At a time when homelessness is on the rise and leaders are failing to adequately fund basic reading and math, the Arts Tax lacks clear goals and tangible outcomes. Because it will raise the sales tax, the Arts Tax will be regressive no matter what – the poor would pay a larger proportion of their income no matter what they buy.

Principles to consider when voting on any ballot measure:

  1. PRIORITY? Is the proposal addressing a need that is urgent?
  2. EVIDENCE-BASED? Is the proposal backed by scientific evidence and/or proven to work in other cities?
  3. WELL-CRAFTED and ACCOUNTABLE? Is the proposal effectively designed to achieve specific OUTCOMES (e.g. graduation rates) and to allow voters and independent experts to track results?
  4. ENDORSED BY INDEPENDENTS? Who is pushing the proposal — independent voices or only groups that will benefit from it?
  5. SMART FUNDING? Can we AFFORD the proposal? Is it COST-EFFECTIVE? Are the funding sources (taxes or fees) FAIR or are they regressive (i.e. the poor pay more)?

ARTS, SCIENCE, and HERITAGE TAX (a.k.a. Ordinance 18513, “Access for All,” King County Proposition 1, or “Arts Tax”) To read it, CLICK HERE.

Housing the homeless and expanding early childhood education are more of a priority now.  Just because it pulls on your heart strings, does not mean you should tax everyone in King County.

When vulnerable populations are asked what they need most to survive and thrive, is the answer greater access to arts programs? Also, if funding these programs for our public schools is so important, why does the proposed Arts Tax set aside only 10% for schools? [See Section 7(C)(1)]

We agree with King County Councilmembers Dave Upthegrove and Larry Gossett who voted against the Arts Tax because we need to deploy the County’s scarce resources to focus on more pressing problems such as homelessness. For a similar view from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE.

The Statement of “Facts” at the beginning of the Arts Tax merely proclaims that “King County residents would greatly benefit” from “meaningful opportunities.”

What evidence is there that the proposed program will lead to “healthier, more inclusive communities” and “higher graduation rates” other than the words printed on the paper? Even the statements about helping the organizations are suspect, such as “would ensure that arts, science and heritage organizations are financially healthy.” How so?

Good intentions do not ensure good results. And, if we really care about the results, King County leaders should go back to the drawing board and design an evidence-based strategy to achieve specific outcomes.

Lacks Outcomes: Section 4 of the Arts Tax lists as its “discernable public benefits” only vague inputs such as “Providing performances and programs” and “Supporting collaborative relationships with other cultural organizations.”  Rather than counting the number of free tickets provided and performances attended, how will beneficial outcomes be demonstrated over time among the children and other vulnerable populations?

Poorly Written: The proposed ordinance is poorly written with undefined terms (“culture” and “demographics”), loopholes (for-profits can be funded), and unenforceable provisions  (Example:  “Organizations…should reflect the demographics of King County in their staffs, board, memberships, audiences and programs”:  Does this mean downtown Seattle arts organizations need to be staffed by the growing hoard of wealthy Amazon.com “brogrammers”?)

Good Use of Existing System: One positive of the Arts Tax is that it does not reinvent the wheel and create a new expensive bureaucracy that can siphon off the tax dollars over time, but rather uses the already established infrastructure of King County’s “4Culture” department.

Weak Oversight:  The Arts Tax establishes a “4Culture advisory committee” but does not specify what it is measuring. Even its composition is muddled with a poorly worded description:  “The size and operation of the advisory council shall be defined, and at least nine members of this committee must be recommended one each by each of the nine county councilmembers and confirmed by the King County council.”  Huh?

While there are many fantastic organizations supporting the Arts Tax, most of these major endorsers are also groups that will benefit from it. These include big institutions that don’t need the money but will receive much of the money, such as the Zoo.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is pushing the Arts Tax, has his eye on higher office. The cynical view of the Arts Tax is that Constantine is using it to “prime the pump” of wealthy donors for his run for Governor in 2020.

Regressive: At over 10%, Seattle’s sales tax is already among the highest in the nation. And sales tax is regressive: the poor pay a larger proportion of their income for anything they buy. The Arts Tax would, unfortunately, increase the sales tax.

Can Rob Peter to Pay Paul:  The Arts Tax will allow General Fund dollars currently supporting the arts, heritage, and science programs to go away — supplanted by the proposed tax. This is a classic budgetary shell game whereby net funding for arts, heritage, and science might not even increase.

Spreading Peanut Butter: Rather than focusing the investment on programs proven to work, the Arts Tax proposes a scatter-shot approach — spreading the “peanut butter” thinly and ineffectively over “hundreds” of organizations. Moreover, the Arts Tax would “use seed money to establish new cultural organizations”  — without any criteria as to their need, purpose, or effectiveness.

After dying in Committee (where bad ideas should die), the Arts Tax mysteriously came back to life. For Seattle Times coverage, CLICK HERE. It is very frustrating that the County Executive puts us in the position to “vote No on the arts,” but voting No on this Arts Tax is the right thing to do.

The good news is that solutions already exist:

  • the Zoo, aquarium, museums, science center, and other venues can already provide free admission.
  • Metro buses and Sound Transit can already provide free transportation.
  • King County’s “4Culture” department should already be focusing on equity outcomes and increased access. They don’t need to increase sales taxes to achieve this.


SODA TAX (a.k.a. “Sweetened Beverage Tax,” Ordinance 125324, and Section 5.53 of the Seattle Municipal Code) To read it, CLICK HERE.

Low-income residents need help buying healthy food and the youngest children need high-quality education as their brains are developing.

2. EVIDENCE-BASED? Yes and No.
The Soda Tax is not perfect:  while the Birth to 5 programs are all evidence-based (proven to produce positive, measurable outcomes), the food access programs and some of the other education programs are lacking.

While the food access programs are not (yet) evidence-based, the evils of sugary drinks are.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)“Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis.”  Therefore, by discouraging consumption of sugary beverages, the Soda Tax could immediately improve health for many residents.

It would be prudent for the City to spend most of the initial dollars on the proven early learning programs while it studies how best to implement the food programs.

For evidence that Nurse Family Partnership produces positive outcomes (including crime reduction!), CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE. For evidence that high-quality preschool programs like the Seattle Preschool Program produce positive outcomes (including higher graduation rates), CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE.

Throwing in the Kitchen Sink:  We believe ALL of the funding from the Soda Tax should go toward evidence-based, early learning programs. That would produce the most positive long-term impacts for the city. But as the dietary evils of sugary sodas were discussed, the proposal naturally emphasized access to healthy foods. Then subsidies for the first year of college were tossed in. This is mishmash was apparently necessary to gain the support of City Councilmembers whose priorities are clearly unclear.

Oversight: While more specific and organized than the vague oversight for the Arts Tax, the Soda Tax’s ongoing oversight has shortcomings. It creates a “Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board”. (Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?)  But why is the Office of Sustainability and Environment (a.k.a. the Mike McGinn and Mike O’Brien Department) the lead agency? To create sustainability for itself? And why are there so few education-related experts on the 11-member board?

Evaluation: Fortunately, there is a saving grace for accountability: the Soda Tax requires an annual independent evaluation completed by academic experts and overseen by the City Auditor.

Health and education experts support the Soda Tax, including the Washington Academy of Family Physicians which would receive no funding from the measure. City Councilmember Tim Burgess, a leader on the Soda Tax, is a retiring statesman and is well known for his commitment to evidence-based policy.

The early learning programs are already proven to be cost-effective, but it’s not clear whether the food access programs will be.

The good news is that, unlike the all-encompassing Arts Tax, the Soda Tax is essentially a user fee; it will tax only those who choose to buy the sugary products.

People seem obsessed with the tax itself because it’s a shiny new object. But at least the Soda Tax is not another property tax.  It’s more appropriate to focus on what the funding will do, rather than the novelty of the funding source.

Critics say the Soda Tax is regressive, but that’s valid only if you accept that it’s okay to drink sugary sodas. It’s not okay. The Soda Tax will discourage Seattle residents from buying something that is horrible for their health.  We agree this seems like a top-down, “Nanny State” approach, but it’s the same with taxing cigarettes. We cannot articulate it better than the 10-year old girl who attended the public hearing in June and said, “I can’t think of a better way to raise that money than a tax on something that has absolutely no nutritional value.”

CONCLUSION: It’s healthy to be FOR some measures and AGAINST some measures. We know some neighbors who see a tax and always vote NO because they distrust the government’s ability to spend their money wisely or they are feeling the pinch of ever-rising taxes. We also know neighbors who lead with their big hearts and want to help others on all fronts. But it’s okay to vote Yes on some and No on others. Consider the principles above and do what you think is best.

The Arts Tax vote is August 1.

  • For campaign website in favor of the Arts Tax, CLICK HERE.
  • For the official statement against the Arts Tax (Proposition 1), CLICK HERE.

The Soda Tax vote is likely November 7 if soda lobbyists force a Referendum to have voters reconsider the ordinance passed by City Council.

  • For campaign website in favor of the Soda Tax, CLICK HERE. For how Berkeley, California beat “Big Soda,” CLICK HERE.
  • For a website against Soda Tax, CLICK HERE.

1 Issue to Engage

Straightening Out A Councilman’s Twisted Truth

Do you recognize this bulldozer? It’s hard to tell because there are so many rumbling in Northeast Seattle these days. (It’s the one on NE 50th and Brooklyn).

Seattle leaders should prevent demolitions and displacement. Instead, our local government officials — led by Councilmember Rob Johnson — have been spending an enormous amount of time and taxpayer resources to quickly implement polices that will benefit their for-profit developer campaign donors and intensify demolitions and displacement.

Councilmember Rob Johnson’s recent Op Ed entitled “U District leads the way in citywide rezone effort” was misleading and irresponsible. Johnson, who was elected to represent Northeast Seattle in “District 4”, was not only celebrating his efforts to enact a law massively upzoning the U District but also giving notice to the rest of the city that he plans to upzone their neighborhoods, too. Disturbingly, many of his statements lauding the upzones were false.

In this troubling era of government officials spreading alternative facts to push their agendas and confuse communities, COUNCILMEMBER ROB JOHNSON’S TWISTING OF THE TRUTH MUST BE CORRECTED.

Misleading Statement #1: Rob Johnson wrote, “for the first time in Seattle’s history we will require affordable housing as we grow.”

Reality:  The U District and other neighborhoods in Seattle already had “Incentive Zoning” that required contributions to affordable housing (and child care and parks) if for-profit developers wanted to build higher. While the new mandatory approach could have been better, Johnson blocked amendments that would have increased affordable housing from just 9% to 10%. Without showing his math, Johnson claimed it would hurt for-profit developers. “The Urbanist” organization pointed out that other, bolder cities set-aside 20% for affordable housing. Unfortunately, the upzone enacted by City Hall may actually reduce affordable housing, as noted by the Seattle Times in their recent piece entitled “Build-Baby-Build Frenzy Leaves Affordability in the Dust.”

Misleading Statement #2: Rob Johnson wrote that the upzones are “living our values as a welcoming, sustainable and inclusive city”

Reality:  Rob Johnson gave for-profit developers a loophole:  they can write a check rather than housing low income people in their buildings. Not requiring affordable housing onsite is the opposite of inclusive.

Misleading Statement #3: Rob Johnson wrote, “We required developers to provide more open space”

Reality: Rob Johnson dismissed an ongoing, grass-roots effort to create a public square above the light rail station.

Misleading Statement #4: Rob Johnson wrote, “By investing in citywide assets like…schools…we encourage more people to live in high-amenity areas.” 

Reality:  Rob Johnson did nothing for schools. In fact, he had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to charge developer’s Impact Fees by which developers would finally to pay their fair share of growth as they do throughout the country. State law specifically allows impact fees to pay for schools, parks, and fire stations. Schools in Northeast Seattle are bursting at the seams, but Johnson ignored community requests for impact fees.  What Johnson did NOT mention in his editorial is that his election campaign was funded richly by for-profit developers. (CLICK HERE and HERE).

Misleading Statement #5: Rob Johnson wrote that the upzones are “contributing to stable neighborhoods, businesses, and schools”

Reality:  Borrowing the term from legendary urban thinker Jane Jacobs (who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities), Rob Johnson’s massive and rapid upzone is “cataclysmic” and therefore the opposite of stable:  it will de-stabilize the neighborhoods and the small, local businesses we cherish.  Demolishing existing buildings to construct more expensive units that require higher rents will push people out and economically gentrify neighborhoods.

Misleading Statement #6: Rob Johnson wrote that upzones will “continue to lower our greenhouse gas emissions”

Reality:  Rob Johnson’s upzone is an environmental shell game:  by pushing people of modest means out of the U District as wealthy tech workers snatch up the expensive new buildings, the former residents will need to commute longer distances in their cars, thereby doing nothing to curb emissions

Misleading Statement #7: Rob Johnson wrote “we delayed zoning changes along a stretch of the Ave so a study on the potential impacts on small businesses could be completed.”

Reality: This “delay” was a cynical tactic to allow passage of the larger upzone everywhere else in the neighborhood. Because Rob Johnson is the Councilmember representing the Ave, it’s like having the “fox in the hen house”.  He has shown no intention of letting any “study” stop him from upzoning the rest of the Ave to benefit his developer donors. It seems he and the bureaucracy are simply waiting out the neighborhood, hoping they tire of fighting City Hall. Fortunately, there is a growing movement to Save the Ave (see end of this column).

Misleading Statement #8: Rob Johnson wrote, “This legislation includes changes made in direct response to feedback”

Reality: As shown above, Rob Johnson constantly ignored feedback from community members.  In fact, he shoved several more blocks into the upzone at the last minute, ignoring pleas to preserve the affordable housing there.

Sadly, Rob Johnson stooped to a new low by comparing concerned communities to Trump for challenging his bulldozer approach to city planning.  Reality: The people in the neighborhoods wanted more affordable housing whereas Johnson pushed for less.  Trump is a developer and developers funded Johnson’s campaign.  Trump abuses the reins of government by spreading fake news to confuse communities. We see that cynical tactic coming from City Hall, not from communities trying to have a say in their future.

We expect our government officials to listen and lead, not to spout misinformation and mislead. Thankfully, residents are not letting the U District upzone get them down and are still turning up the volume on City Hall.

What can you do?  Engage. Fight Back. City Hall is coming to develop your neighborhood whether you like it or not. Why? Because most of City Hall is representing the moneyed-interests, not the public interest. While they complain about “wealthy” homeowners (many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes), our elected officials take money and direction from local billionaires.

Save the Ave:  There is a new and growing effort to preserve the funky, small businesses on The Ave (University Way NE). Many of these have been featured as “Stores to Adore” on www.4toExplore.org, such as Scarecrow Video and Gargoyle Statuary.

  • For the small businesses devoted to preserving the Ave, CLICK HERE.
  • For the “Save the Ave” website, CLICK HERE.

Support Councilmember Lisa Herbold: Make the 1% pay more than 2% !! Make downtown developers pay their fair share for the cost of growth and congestion. Write council@seattle.gov today to reach all 9 City Councilmembers. Ask them to support Lisa Herbold’s amendments to increase the affordable housing obligations for developers in downtown and South Lake Union. Since Rob Johnson blocked neighborhood requests to increase affordability in the U District, making the Council increase affordability for downtown will set a better precedent as City Hall plots to redevelop other neighborhoods.

Need Inspiration?  For news footage of neighbors banding together recently to protest City Hall’s top-down, pro-developer policies, CLICK HERE.

1 Issue to Engage

Just Say No to Trump (HUD Appointment Hurts Seattle)

Let’s tell the Senators:  Just Say “No” To Donald Trump.

TRUMP’S IRRESPONSIBLE APPOINTMENT TO H.U.D. WILL HURT SEATTLE. Only a qualified expert in affordable housing or city management should lead this important national agency.

Many Americans are already horrified by Trump’s appointments to lead other agencies. The person Trump selected to head Health disparages women’s health concerns. The person Trump selected to head Education criticizes key principles of public education.

As residents of a major city with an affordable housing and homeless crisis, we Seattleites must also confront Trump’s reckless choice to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Would Ben Carson want an expert in affordable housing to take his place overseeing pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital? Of course not, because it’s too important.

Why is HUD so important? HUD invests $50 billion each year for affordable housing and economic development[1].  HUD builds homes, creates jobs, and cares for the homeless. Here in our city, including Northeast Seattle where my family lives, many of the ribbon-cuttings and success stories championed by local politicians are actually funded by HUD.  HUD’s 8,000 employees fulfill a nationwide mission too important to be mismanaged by an inexperienced leader.

When Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolutionaries” captured a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994, they demanded the elimination of HUD[2].  Without understanding the importance of HUD, they callously clawed back funding already on its way to boost low-income communities. But those rookie congressmen eventually realized that HUD is not an agency merely subsidizing the urban poor. Its FHA lending products finance housing in every congressional district. The flexible Community Development Block Grants  – enacted under Republican President Nixon — create jobs.  Section 8 subsidies are often in the form of contracts to the owners of apartment buildings — and many of those owners vote Republican. The compelling benefits of those HUD programs ultimately saved  the agency from destruction 20 years ago and may save it again under a Trump Administration.

But what about Fair Housing programs? Fair Housing is just as vital for strong communities but does not provide financial benefits to interest groups.  Even here in progressive Seattle, there are shameful acts of housing discrimination.  As reported by the Seattle Times last year, a local study concluded that, “Property owners and their agents treated prospective tenants differently based on race, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.”[3]

Any discrimination by landlords exacerbates the affordability crisis in Seattle, where families and neighborhood businesses of color already experience displacement pressures from soaring rents and greedy upzones that incentivize demolition of existing affordable buildings.[4]  That same investigation found discrimination at “large, sleek new developments in Ballard and South Lake Union.”  The investigations uncovering the housing discrimination – and the corrective fair housing training for the owners – are funded by HUD. Combined with Trump’s dreadful  choice for Attorney General, an inexperienced HUD Secretary would embolden the Dept of Justice to switch from protector to destroyer of fair housing.

When HUD is managed by experienced leaders, it benefits people across the political spectrum: from mortgage bankers to homeless families.  Under the solid leadership of Andrew Cuomo, Shaun Donovan, and former Mayor Julian Castro, HUD has reinvented government and fostered best practices, such as Housing First – an evidence-based solution that speeds the homeless into permanent housing.

When HUD is mismanaged by inexperience – as it was during the Reagan Administration — it allows slumlords, financial scandals, and discrimination[5].

Millions of Americans rely on the expertise of the HUD Secretary to ensure they have a home at night and a job in the morning.

The U.S. Senate should exercise their constitutional prerogative and Just Say “No” to Trump, so that we can continue to say “Yes We Can” to a national agency vital for keeping America great.

While our U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are likely to vote NO, you can encourage friends and family in “red” and “purple” states to oppose him. Here’s a link: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

1 Issue to Engage

Vote, Northeast Seattle!

VOTE, NORTHEAST SEATTLE !  Your ballots are due Tues, Nov 8.  While there are many candidates and measures to sort through, here are our recommendations for two of the most important:

  • Sound Transit 3 (ST3): Vote No.


If you are still deciding how to vote, here is our thinking:

No on Sound Transit 3 (ST3):
We want more extensive mass transit, but Big Business should not get a free ride while the poor pay more.  Shockingly, that’s exactly what the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure would do. ST3 would shovel unfair, regressive taxes onto the people while several large corporations reap the benefits. And that’s why the corporations are funding the campaign — it’s cheaper to make campaign contributions than to fund the light rail itself. For a list of corporate campaign contributors, CLICK HERE.

The politicians deciding who pays — including Northeast Seattle’s Councilmember Rob Johnson (who sits on the Sound Transit board) — let us down. While they call themselves “progressives,” their proposal for more Sales Tax is regressive. Their proposal for more Property Tax means renters and homeowners will struggle to pay several other local levies, including the nearly $1 billion “transportation” levy enacted just months ago (109,000 votes in favor; 77,000 votes against).

The only way to make the politicians listen is to put our foot down.  REJECT AND RE-DO SOUND TRANSIT 3: MAKE CORPORATIONS PAY FAIR SHARE.

Reckless funding proposals like ST3 jeopardize sensible and fair levies like those for education and affordable housing.  Therefore, we should demand that elected officials fix ST3 and put a better version on the ballot in early 2017. The Seattle Times agrees; for their June editorial, CLICK HERE.

Here are some ideas to make it better:

  • Make Biggest Businesses Pay Biggest Share (Portland, OR and New York City are just two examples where Employers help to fund transit.) The State’s authorizing legislation SB 5987 (see Section 318) encourages other sources of “funds, including federal, state, local, and private sector assistance.” An “Employer Tax” is the first one suggested.
  • Require Microsoft to pay for light rail to Redmond.
  • Eliminate regressive tax increases so the poor do not pay more.
  • Divide Sound Transit 3 into TWO Pieces to provide time to enact a State Income Tax (e.g. on non-retirement investment income).
  • Provide More Regional Buses (faster than waiting for light rail construction).
  • Increase fares for well-to-do transit riders so that they pay more of the actual cost (lower-income riders would continue to get Orca Lift discount cards.)
  • Investigate Sound Transit’s questionable use of online surveys and slick campaign-like mailers.

For two sides of the debate from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE. They both make compelling arguments and they both exaggerate. They also both miss the point: we need to expand transit, but the way it is funded needs to be re-tooled.

For more reasons to vote NO, see last season’s article “Reject and Revise ST3: Make Corporations Pay Fair Share” by CLICKING HERE.

Just as for-profit developers should pay Impact Fees to pay their fair share of growth, corporations benefiting from new infrastructure should pay their fair share so that we do not burden lower income families with more regressive taxes. Vote NO on ST3 and demand immediate revisions to the funding sources so that we have transit that is truly fair and progressive.

Yes for Nicole Macri (43rd Legislative District):

Our state government reps have a lot of work to do — from funding our public schools to reforming our tax system to providing more for affordable housing. We have endorsed Nicole Macri for our 43rd Legislative District, because Nicole has real experience creating affordable housing (results rather than rhetoric). Nicole also knows how to empower the homeless into homes (using proven best practices, rather than making up stuff).

There is another attribute that sets Nicole apart: She “speaks Truth to Power” — a refreshing and meaningful approach because “Seattle nice” and conflict-averse incumbents often let problems linger. To get a sense of Nicole, imagine Bernie Sanders’ passion for justice seasoned by Hillary Clinton’s experience fueled by the tenacity of the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch.That’s what our state government in Olympia needs!

Northeast Seattle is represented by two State legislative districts: 43rd and 46th.

The 43rd includes Eastlake, Wallingford, U District, and Ravenna. The 43rd is currently represented by Rep Frank Chopp as well as State Senator Jamie Pedersen.

The 46th includes Bryant, Hawthorne Hills, Laurelhurst, and Wedgwood. The 46th is currently represented by State Reps Farrell and Pollet as well as Senator Frockt.

To confirm your State legislative district AND U.S. Congressional district, CLICK HERE.

For an official list of all of the candidates and ballot measures, CLICK HERE.

Whatever you do this Fall, VOTE. Let the halls of power hear the voice of Northeast Seattle.

1 Issue to Engage

Reject and Re-Do Sound Transit 3 (ST3): Make Corporations Pay Fair Share

We want more extensive public transit, but should Big Business get a free ride while the poor pay more? Of course not. Shockingly, that’s exactly what the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure would do. ST3 would shovel unfair, regressive taxes onto the people while several large corporations reap the benefits.

Example: Sound Transit 3 would increase Sales Taxes on the general public to build a new light rail extension that benefits Microsoft Corp headquarters in Redmond. (This is the same Microsoft that already uses off-shore accounts to avoid other taxes.) (Existing Sound Transit 2 taxes are already building a light rail TO Microsoft headquarters.)

The politicians deciding who pays — including Northeast Seattle’s Councilmember Rob Johnson (who sits on the Sound Transit board) — let us down. While they call themselves “progressives,” their proposal for more Sales Tax is regressive. Their proposal for more Property Tax means renters and homeowners will struggle to pay several other local levies, including the nearly $1 billion “transportation” levy enacted just months ago (109,000 votes in favor; 77,000 votes against).

The only way to make the politicians listen is to put our foot down.  REJECT AND RE-DO SOUND TRANSIT 3: MAKE CORPORATIONS PAY FAIR SHARE.

Reckless funding proposals like ST3 jeopardize sensible and fair levies like those for education and affordable housing.  Therefore, we should demand that elected officials fix ST3 and put a better version on the ballot in early 2017. Here are some ideas to make it better:

  • Make Biggest Businesses Pay Biggest Share (Portland, OR and New York City are just two examples where employers help to fund transit.)
  • Require Microsoft to pay for light rail to Redmond.
  • Eliminate regressive tax increases so that poor do not pay more.
  • Divide Sound Transit 3 into TWO Pieces to provide time to enact a State Income Tax (e.g. on non-retirement investment income).
  • Provide More Regional Buses (faster than waiting for light rail construction).
  • Increase fares for well-to-do transit riders so that they pay more of the actual cost (lower-income riders would continue to get Orca Lift discount cards.)
  • Investigate Sound Transit’s questionable use of online surveys and slick campaign-like mailers that advocate for ST3.

UPDATE: Three days after we distributed our 4toExplore.org newsletter, the Seattle Times also urged voters to put the brakes on Sound Transit 3. The Seattle Times articulated additional reasons to hold off. For their editorial, CLICK HERE.

Sound Transit is damaging trust by misleading the public about the costs. Their website states, “Under collection of the full authorized revenues the estimated cost to a typical adult living in the Sound Transit District would be approximately $200 more annually.”  But, the Seattle Times points out that it’s actually $400 per year: “An average household would pay $400 in yearly property, sales and car-tax increases if voters in urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties say yes in November…The estimated household average of $400 more per year is close to double what residents now pay for Sound Transit measures approved by voters in 1996 and 2008.”

Here is how officials propose to pay for STC3:

  • Property Tax: an additional $125 per year for a house worth $500,000. (This is 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.)
  • Sales Tax: an additional 0.5%, on top of the 0.9% already collected for a total of 1.4%.
  • Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET): an additional 0.8% of vehicle value, on top of the 0.3% already collected for Sound Transit.

We have no problem with the MVET. But a Sales Tax is regressive (the poor pay more). For an article by the “FYI Guy” on regressive taxes, CLICK HERE. In addition, property taxes have been increasing exponentially, creating additional pressure on important future local levies for affordable housing, public education, etc.

What about the cost of the tickets? According to Sound Transit, “ticket sales will cover up to an estimated 40 percent of light rail operations costs and 20 percent of bus operations costs.” Therefore, Sound Transit should consider charging higher income riders higher fares to cover more of the actual cost of service (user fee) rather than making all low income families pay more with regressive sales taxes.

Unfortunately, Seattle’s City Council in May 2016 passed Resolution 31668 , stating that they “endorse Sound Transit’s proposed mix of revenue options” because “Sound Transit has been granted limited options for funding these needs, which will only become more expensive over time.” But the State’s authorizing legislation SB 5987 (see Section 318) actually states that they “should also seek other funds, including federal, state, local, and private sector assistance.” Criteria for the funding sources should include “equity”. And the very first option listed is an “Employer Tax” — which is ignored by ST3. Why not learn from Portland, Oregon (TriMet) which charges an Employer Tax? Moreover, the Legislature exists to legislate; therefore, they could easily enact other options for Sound Transit — certainly the State’s authorization of a $15 billion cap did not stop Sound Transit from doing something different: proposing over $50 billion.

For two sides of the debate from the Seattle Times, CLICK HERE. They both make compelling arguments and they both exaggerate. They also both miss the point: we need to expand transit, but the way it is funded needs to be re-tooled.

Corporations benefiting from new infrastructure should pay their fair share so that we do not burden lower income families with more regressive taxes. Vote NO on ST3 and demand immediate revisions to the funding sources so that we have transit that is truly fair and progressive.

1 Issue to Engage

Yes on the Affordable Housing Levy

When I served as a legislative aide for the City Council, I had the honor to help craft the levy for the Seattle Preschool Program. So I have seen what is required for a good levy.  That’s why I voted against the recent Parks and Transportation levies: they lacked accountability, contained unessential programs, and cost too much. But I’m voting YES for the AFFORDABLE HOUSING LEVY and here are 4 reasons why you should, too.

1. The Housing Levy can reduce homelessness.
2. The Housing Levy fills the gap.
3. The Housing Levy is NOT “HALA.”
4.The Housing Levy is Equity in Action.

1. The Affordable Housing Levy can reduce homelessness. It is heart-breaking and unacceptable that families with children are spending the night outside. But there are strategies proven to reduce homelessness in several other cities. “Housing First” is an evidence-based strategy supported by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Here’s why “Housing First” works:   when  a homeless person or family is severely distressed, only the stability of permanent affordable housing enables them to pull their lives back together, complete their education, secure a job, or kick a drug habit.  “Housing First” requires the construction of 100% affordable housing and that’s the Housing Levy. (For an earlier article by www.4toExplore.org on solving homelessness in Seattle, CLICK HERE.)

2. The Affordable Housing Levy fills the gap. The Housing Levy is the only reliable source of funds to fill the financial gap required to build affordable housing in Seattle. Without the Housing Levy, more developers (even nonprofits) would build outside of Seattle due to the relatively high cost of land here. The Housing Levy acts like the Sun, with its hefty gravity pulling several affordable projects to within our city limits. In contrast, the simplistic “density” policies pushed by some for-profit developers fail to provide sufficient affordable housing. Density alone is a supply-side, trickle-down approach that, in some cases, demolishes older, “naturally-occurring” affordable housing to build upscale apartments for the influx of high-tech professionals. If we fail to renew (and expand) our Housing Levy, we are left with only the insufficient trickle-downers.

3. The Affordable Housing Levy is NOT “HALA.”  The Housing Levy is like The Rolling Stones whereas the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) is like Brittney Spears.  Both are music, but putting them on the same stage creates discord.  Like the Rolling Stones, the Housing Levy has been around a long time (35 years) and has a glowing track record of success. Like Brittney Spears, HALA has some tunes with which you reluctantly sing along, but some fall flat or sound wrong. One of the most intriguing HALA recommendations would require developers to set aside funds for affordable housing – but less than 10%.  The Housing Levy, however, tops the charts:  it builds 100% affordable housing.  Bottom-line: direct your HALA skepticism at HALA, not at the Housing Levy. (For an earlier article on HALA from www.4toExplore.org, CLICK HERE.)

4. The Affordable Housing Levy is Equity in Action. There is a lot of tweeting about “equity” in the Seattle echo chamber, with public figures striving to sound the most “progressive.”  But the Affordable Housing Levy is the real deal. The Housing Levy is not words, but bricks. It is equity in action.

Concerns about the cumulative cost impact of levies are valid. Property taxes have been rising and landlords can pass these costs onto renters. But until State legislators grant Seattle local authority to enact more progressive policies or big businesses contribute more, the levy is one of our few reliable tools for affordable housing. While City leaders could do more to generate funds by right-sizing City Hall’s rich retirement benefits for new government employees, that may not be enough. While City leaders could join other cities across the State and nation by having for-profit developers pay Impact Fees, those funds can be used only for schools, fire stations, and sidewalks – not for affordable housing.

Bottom line: our city needs this dedicated source of funds to build enough permanent affordable housing so that children are no longer sleeping outside.  As Mayor Murray said, “Expanding the Housing Levy is the most important thing we will do this year to support affordability in Seattle.”

For detailed information about the Housing Levy, CLICK HERE. For a glossy one-page summary, CLICK HERE. The Mayor’s team held “community conversations” throughout the city in February. The Mayor asked the City Council to place it on our ballots for August of this year.  The City Council’s Select Committee on the 2016 Housing Levy is holding a public hearing at City Hall on Monday, April 4 at 5:30 p.m. For their other meetings, CLICK HERE.

I encourage other neighborhood leaders to support the Affordable Housing Levy for Seattle.

Two More Tools for Affordable Housing:

1. Bonds, Baby, Bonds:  In addition to renewing/expanding the Affordable Housing Levy, the city could also issue tax-exempt bonds to fund the new construction of affordable housing. Issuing bonds would provide funding to address immediately some of the existing shortage of truly affordable housing, whereas the Housing Levy would build more slowly over several years. The bonds could be backed by the City and/or by the revenues to be generated by the new housing, depending on how affordable the housing is (The more affordable the housing to the renters, the less revenue will be generated from rental income to pay down the bonds).

2. Don’t Demolish What We Already Have:  When renewing/expanding the Housing Levy, it would be ideal if the City enacted an ordinance to require the one-for-one replacement of affordable housing units demolished by developers (whether or not the units are funded by the levy).  The City should be able to waive this policy in special circumstances.

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