Critics wrong on Roads & Transit prop
November 24, 2008 · Updated 7:06 PM
I am glad to see the Mercer Island Reporter’s efforts to foster a vigorous debate on Roads & Transit Proposition 1 — an issue of immense local and regional importance. I have spent decades participating in regional debates on transportation, and I can say from personal experience that this is the right plan for the region, and the time to get going is now.
In your Oct. 3 edition, Sarah Rindlaub penned the piece in opposition to the Roads & Transit plan. Unfortunately, she made an important factual error during the course of her argument when she stated that as a result of the Roads & Transit investments for I-90, “our commute across the lake will increase 25 percent during the morning and afternoon peak drive times.” To the contrary, the Washington state Department of Transportation published a study in July 2006 which shows that car travel time from Seattle to Island Crest Way in the evening rush hour will be SHORTER in 2030 than they are today! And while car travel times from Mercer Island to Seattle will worsen by 2030 due to the incredible growth we expect, the scenario that puts light rail in the center roadway is shown to have the SHORTEST projected travel time for Mercer Island drivers.
The critics also seek to scare voters by wildly and misleadingly inflating the cost of the package. Calling Roads & Transit a $160 billion package is nothing short of gross exaggeration. To arrive at such a figure, they include tax dollars that were already approved by voters and are currently being used to build projects around the region! Moreover, they ignore the clear intent of the plan and include highly inflated dollars from tax collections in the distant future, after the Roads & Transit projects are built, contrary to provisions that expressly provide for a rollback of taxes.
Critics also ignore the fact that Sound Transit’s financial practices have been heavily audited and found to be sound and reasonable. The agency enjoys a top-notch credit rating and will borrow money using standard industry practices that ensure effective use of taxpayer dollars.
Finally, of course, critics refuse to acknowledge Sound Transit’s terrific track record of delivering projects. Light rail from Seattle to the airport will open in 2009 — on time and on budget. When completed, that line will shape the future of our regional transit system.
But much more importantly, arguments that focus on such small details miss the big picture: Roads & Transit Proposition 1 represents the culmination of over 10 years of planning, balancing road and transit needs across the region, and doing so in a way that helps our quality of life, our environment and our economy. Mercer Island residents will have a better road system along both I-405 and I-90 to speed car travel, and we will also have access 20 hours a day to a light rail system that can take us to Seattle, Bellevue, University of Washington, Sea-Tac Airport, Microsoft, Northgate and beyond — in a way that’s clean, fast and reliable.
I support Proposition 1 because it makes major investments in both roads and transit that will position this region for a long, healthy and economically productive future. I hope you will join me in voting yes.
Islander Aubrey Davis is the former head of the state Transportation Commission, a current member of the project to replace the Evergreen Point Bridge, a member of the transportation committee at the Puget Sound Regional Council, former chief executive officer of Group Health Cooperative and former MI mayor.
Let’s make school votes fair
On Nov. 6, voters will get a chance to decide whether the same standard should apply to levies in support of our public schools that applies to jails, parks, libraries and other services. Votes in support of these services require only 50 percent plus one vote to pass; education levies require a supermajority of 60 percent.
EHJR 4204 (aka Simple Majority) is a once-in-a-generation chance for voters to reverse this anachronistic and unfair burden to provide locally for our schools.
Why had Washington put such a high passing hurdle for education but not jails? It passed in 1944, in the aftermath of war and depression, when an agri-rural population feared that renters would run up their taxes. At the time, Washington had 2000 school districts, all with taxing authority. Times have changed, and finally after 20 years of political wrangling, legislators have voted to change this constitutional amendment so education levies can be considered in fair standing alongside jail and library ballots.
In the recent past, voters considered 225 education levies and gave all but one over 50 percent of their votes. Nevertheless, 31 of those levies failed because they didn’t reach 60 percent, or supermajority. Since districts count on levies for up to 25 percent of their operating budget (like Mercer Island), a levy failure means deep budget cuts, teacher layoffs and other disruptions. These hurt our kids. Gashes in programming and teachers can take years to fix. Re-running a levy campaign costs taxpayer money and volunteer time.
In our district, the levies help to support education programs and school operations such as teachers, counselors, librarians, staff training, textbooks, student activities and athletics. Our district depends on the maintenance and operating fund levy for 23.3 percent of its operating budget.
For Mercer Island, which has habitually passed its education levies, a simple majority threshold would likely mean that more districts succeed in passing their own levies, saving a portion of Mercer Island’s taxes being siphoned into an equalization fund that supports districts who are as not as fortunate.
All children deserve a good education that is properly funded. A supermajority threshold is daunting and can impede other districts from exercising their full taxing authority to adequately support their local schools. Reducing tax dollars can be abstract. Instead, look around at your children’s classmates; many have moved to the Island from other Washington towns. It is in everyone’s interest that they arrive here as well prepared as students who have grown up in the Mercer Island School District.
Simple majority’s importance beams a spotlight on the fiscal distress weighing on Washington’s 296 school districts, ranked 42nd in the nation in funding per child. Simple-majority passage for levies won’t be a magic bullet for school districts, nor will it affect the higher hurdle for school bonds.
Improving funding for educating the next generation remains an arduous task. But a simple-majority rule is a big step toward fairness, enabling the (simple) majority of people to vote to support their local schools.
Mercer Island’s PTA Council —with PTA membership hovering near 100 percent — has joined the State PTA in endorsing Simple Majority…for the past 20 years. We are joined by principals, superintendents, teachers and everyone who cares about education for our kids, and everyone who agrees that fairness — when a majority vote truly means over 50 percent — should encompass local school levies.
Dig through your ballot and find and support EHJR 4204 (aka Simple Majority). Under the weighty legal ballot title is a chance to send a loud message that in Washington, education does matter and it is only fair that local school levies can pass with an honest majority like jails and hospitals.
Stowe Sprague is the Legislation & Advocacy VP for the Mercer Island PTA Council.