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Reject Proposition 1
Proposition 1, the increase in sales tax and car tabs to pay for light rail and roads, should be defeated. It costs too much, it lasts too long and it does too little.
Consider first the largest cost. In Seattle, Proposition 1 would increase the rate of general sales tax to 9.5 cents on a dollar, and on restaurant food to 10 cents. In other parts of the Sound Transit district, the total tax varies a bit, but all the rates would be among the highest sales taxes in the United States.
Most of the increase, five-tenths of a cent, is for Sound Transit's 50 additional miles of light rail, which the people are asked to fund before the first miles even open. An additional four-tenths of a cent, which the people agreed to pay for the segment now being built, is extended by Proposition 1 to the new lines. Sound Transit's total, if voters approve it, would be nearly a full penny on every dollar of taxable sales in the urban area from Everett to Tacoma.
There is an argument about how much this really is, and we won't go there. Suffice to say it is billions and billions. The people will not be able to repeal this tax with a local vote, as they did the monorail tax in Seattle, because Sound Transit gives them no mechanism for a local vote. Furthermore, when the agency pledges the tax to a bond, which the monorail was never able to do, the tax will be repeal-proof. Officials know this, and they will do it. The bottom line is that Proposition 1 is virtually irreversible. It obligates you, your children and your grandchildren.
But we need to do something! Yes — but for this price, the people should demand good reasons.
The supporters of Proposition 1 tell us that the politicians chose this package because pollsters told them the people would vote for it. They ask The Times to support it because they agreed on it. The Times' endorsement would, in turn, be used to convince you to vote for it.
This is a circular argument — and entirely political. We think what the people want is a plan to reduce congestion. Proposition 1 spends huge amounts of money to make congestion worsen at a slightly lesser rate.
Seattle may deny this, but the surest way to reduce congestion on roads is to build more lanes. So says a report issued by State Auditor Brian Sonntag last week, and so says human experience. New roads help. The part of Proposition 1 that goes for roads — a 0.8 percentage point jump in car tabs and a tenth of a cent on sales tax — would actually reduce congestion. But it is the minor part.
Buses also reduce congestion if people will ride them. Much more could be done with bus service, particularly if high-occupancy lanes are kept flowing by the smart use of tolls. Light rail replaces buses, and at a much higher cost per rider. Rail soaks up money buses might have used. Rail funnels transit. Buses extend it. And most rail riders will be people who were already riding the bus. If you want to know why King County Executive Ron Sims came out against Proposition 1, remember that he's the county's No. 1 bus guy.
Throw these arguments at the Proposition 1 defenders and the ones thinking about the short term say, yes, we could reduce congestion with roads, tolls and buses, but voters aren't ready to buy that: They believe in light rail, so give the public that. The farsighted ones say light rail is about changing the way we live. It is about increasing density, levering us into apartments around rail stations. If we live next to rail, we will drive less and help save the Earth. It is a fetching, utopian vision, but it is not so easy to change the way Americans live.
Consider Portland. That city opened its first light-rail line two decades ago, and has built several of them, all of which replaced bus lines. Overall, Greater Portland is no less car-dependent than Seattle. Its congestion has gotten worse, just as it has here. Many Portlanders are proud of light rail, but the last three times new light-rail plans have been on the ballot in the Portland area, the people rejected them.
Maybe they learned something.
Proposition 1 is the wrong proposal. Vote "no," and preserve a chance to get it right.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company