Park vs Parking vs Prophecy vs Profit – Full of Loss

Over the last year or so I’ve been watching both the Seattle and Washington government with a muted interest. OK, maybe it’s less than muted given my blog posts, Facebook comments, and general flailing of arms when talking about this in person. But still: I’ve been watching WA law makers quietly work their way to a statewide income tax and they’re actually quite close now. And it won’t be like CT, where the sales tax dropped as the income tax was added – no, I expect WA wants to ask for money with two hands, rather than one. What’s even more important is that they’ve got tree hugging citizens that are applauding them for it.

Sad, really.

The problem here is that WA state citizens, especially King and Pierce counties, already have a large burden of tax on their heads. We have a 9.5% sales tax on most items (except for food). Our restaurant tax – restaurant, bar, coffee; anything with a service – is 10%. We have a sin tax, a gas tax, a bunch of levies that come around at will for education, libraries, and the like… we also have property taxes. We all pay car tab fees and we have an emissions tax program that starts with cars over [I think] five years old.

All this money is being collected already, state wide. Sure, the sales and restaurant taxes are higher in King and Pierce counties but that’s the majority of the people in the state; I can live with that. Similar to the price of parking in Seattle versus Redmond: the ratio of cost always increases to your proximity to a city. I get that.

What I don’t get is how we can have a 2.6 billion dollar budget gap and have the state ask us for more money. I get a budget gap; that’s easy to understand. I mean, how we got here makes sense: you spent more than you took in and now you’re screwed. What is galling to me is the ask for more money from the citizens.

We’re already a fairly high taxed state. Sure we’re one of of the ten states in the Union without an income tax but we’re also in the top ten of most taxed states. So either way, we’re paying out a large amount of cash no matter what it’s called – if they are still getting the cash, does it matter how? Bottom line is that Business 101 says that if you want to spend more than you’re making you either a) get more money or b) reduce what your spending.

Looking at option A, this is the logical and easiest option. The government has agreed on what they want to spend; now they just have to fund it. What they aren’t getting is that we’re already tapped out. We’re already tax – if not overtaxed – on too many things. Additionally, they are actively not working on anything to hold onto the businesses that we have that could help us with taxes. Why did Boeing set up shop in South Carolina? First thought is because of the unions. The unions refused to agree to a strike free contract… uh, this is not 1979 and Norma Rae, guys – there’s no children working in the factory and working conditions are mandated by OSHA. What has your union done for us lately, aside from collecting dues and demanding more money? You should have cut the deal with Boeing.

And when the unions didn’t cut the deal, the government should have pushed pressure onto the unions. And when that failed the government should have been offering as many tax breaks as SC. No, instead the government said “we’ve got the expertise and supply lines in Everett – they won’t leave.” True comment: heard it on the news myself from a state representative. So why isn’t option A a real option anymore? Because you’ve got jobs leaving because companies aren’t getting any incentives to stay here. With the jobs going, so will the people if only because the cost of living won’t get cheaper just because there’s fewer jobs. WA is nice and all but there are other states with more jobs, lower taxes, lower cost of living, and better weather: I expect to see a population migration start to occur in October 2010, if we get more taxes dropped on us.

Option B, then, is the only other option: spend less. That’s what really needs to happen in this state: smarter spending. Not even less spending, but smarter spending. I love the fact that there’s so many people in WA that are politically aware, which is more than I can say for the East where they just go with the flow. The people here love Getting Involved. They may be so ignorant of things that they can only repeat what they’ve been told to repeat, but they are still aware of the political climate. How does that work? Look at the behavior of our national party system and how they have behaved the last 20 years: When Republicans lose majority, they blame the media for being pro-Democrat. When Democrats lose majority, they blame the Republicans for believing in something that Democrats don’t – they say “How can you believe that?!” but can’t come up with something better. You may not agree with Republicans, you may not like Republicans, and you may fight to your last breathe against all that they represent, but you have to admit: they know what they believe in. You ask a Republican why they buy into point A and they can back it up. True, it might be by quoting a Bible or some other mythical report, but they have a reason. Ask a modern day Democrat that’s walking the streets of Seattle – usually with a petition in hand – why they support point A, and 75% of them can’t tell you why and another 20% will point out that it’s better than the Republican idea, which makes it better. If you press them, they collapse. The last 5% will have the hard facts as to why they formed their opinion, even if the facts may be as unbelievable as Republican bibles… at least they logically have a reason. Fact is that being Democrat is a trendy thing right now: it’s very easy to follow and not know why you support it.

Why is that important? Because WA government is so Democrat-blue that it means that our populous is inclined to keep them in power because of the party without knowing the money that the government is already getting is going. Cynical people will instinctively think “bail out programs” or “salaries” but it’s far worse than that… we have a spend happy government and our people simply thank them for it every election. The only glimmer of hope I have is that the Seattle Democrat party refused to support “bag happy” Mayor Nichols this past November. It gives me hope that maybe the people in the city are going to hold their mayor accountable, even if it did take a monster snow storm to prove the point.

Accountability is what we need. When I heard about the gap, my initial reaction was “cut stuff.” Then I heard the uproar that Mount Si’s trail may be closed more often due to lack of funds. Ya know what? That’s not a bad thing. Save the money for the state and let the trails be supported by the enthusiast that use them most often; how often does anyone east of WA use the Mount Si trial? Road work is universally needed and we haven’t seen much of that lately, given the daily state of SR520 and the still-sinking SR99. What we keep seeing is more and more programs and parks and worse than parks: park art work. How does that help our budget gap? How does this help anyone? Don’t get me wrong – I love the big eraser down by the railroad tracks in Seattle and I like the sculpture park. But what did it cost us all then and how did that help our current budget now?

The high flying times of reckless spending has been over for years but I don’t think anyone in WA’s government got the memo… no, instead I see stuff like what’s in the picture. I could see a committee meeting in Olympia or Seattle with this plan: “lets take an ugly private parking lot and make it into a park since we haven’t had a new one in Capitol Hill for years!” So the government now has to buy the land from the owner. The owner that is making a fist full of money because the park is in a neighborhood with limited parking, so there’s always a 1/4 lot full (and completely full on weekends,) so it’s going to be an expensive purchase – land often is. Once you’ve got the land, you need to convert it into a park, which cannot be cheap. Especially when you’ll have the EPA and hippies all over you to fix whatever is under the asphalt, before planting one seed of grass. After two or three years you get a park opening. A day later and you’ll have to have police sweep the park to clear out the homeless that will crash there on opening night. One week after that you’ll have graffiti all over the kid’s toys.

Of course, by that time we’ll also have a 5.0 billion budget gap, 11.5% sales tax, and a 4% income tax so there’s likely to be even more people sleeping there that night… maybe they can help avert the graffiti problem.

“People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” “People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.” [The American President 1995]

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