Election blues

You'd never know it, but there's an election coming up. A rather important one, actually. Especially if you ever ride the bus.

Oh, there's the City Council to deal with, too. But first, let's take a look at I-695, that wonderful deal that would reduce everyone's vehicle registration tax to $30.

Now, I'm not particularly a fan of big government, but this is one of the nastiest ideas to come along in a long time, particularly because it doesn't do anything about the aspects of big government—reshoveling our money to wealthy folks who don't need it—that I dislike. Instead, I-695 punishes the poor and working classes by not giving them much of a tax break (Lexuses and SUVs will save a lot more money) but doing a great deal to dismantle government services.

The motor vehicle excise tax is one more piece of Washington state's extremely regressive tax structure. We have high auto taxes precisely because the state has no income tax. Revenues from the excise tax, then, go to fund a whole slew of basic services. Transit and ferry systems will take a huge hit; Metro buses will lose an estimated quarter or more of their budget, theoretically requiring a fare increase to $3.50 to make up the lost revenue. All of those transportation and road projects approved last year by Referendum 49 will be suddenly defunded. Rural Washington state will be hit particularly hard due to revenues lost for basic government functions in small jurisdictions: police, fire, parks, public health programs, and the like.

I-695 also has a peculiar escalating effect in subsequent years due to the spending caps imposed on the state budget by our last tax revolt initiative—I-601. That measure requires that spending limits be calculated based on the amount of money spent in the previous year. I-695 thus works to ratchet the state budget downward in coming years. And any attempt to recover lost revenues by increasing fees or taxes, no matter how small, must be approved by voters.

All in all, I-695 is a mess—a viscerally appealing tax-cut measure that will hit the poor hardest, sponsored by a right-wing ideologue (Tim Eyman) whose simple-minded agenda is to dismantle as much government as he can. The obvious question must be asked: How is it that in an unprecedented boom economy, when the state is presumably most able to afford it, that our politicians seem least willing to help those in need? The very purpose of government is to come together as a society to provide those functions we can't as easily do ourselves. I-695 once again turns that on its head by cutting the essential functions and leaving the frivolous ones—the sports stadiums and big business handouts—untouched.

Meet the new bosses

The opposition for I-695 seems to have been slow getting its message out, and that's not the only reason election season seems a little dull. Seattle has three City Council open seats up for grabs, yet it seems that in each case one candidate has enough momentum to carry the day. Meet your new City Council members: Judy Nicastro, Heidi Wills, and Jim Compton. In order, Nicastro is sitting pretty despite a strong post-primary fundraising push from terrified apartment owners for opponent Cheryl Chow. She barely beat Chow in the primary but inherits virtually all of the votes of fellow progressive Daniel Norton, who finished a solid third; their combined totals would have sent Nicastro to victory in five of the city's seven legislative districts. Wills did well despite Charlie Chong's superior name recognition in the primary, and is sitting on a gold mine of money for use in a general election push. And Compton also won in five of the seven districts, despite a late start; he has been raking in the downtown dollars since the primary against opponent Dawn Mason.

A couple of things stand out with this crew. First, they're all white, and their opponents are all non-white. In fact, combined with the 1997 elections (Licata, Steinbrueck, Conlin) this will serve to put white folks in the last six open City Council seats. And the 37th District—the city's most racially diverse—went for each of the non-white, trailing opponents in the primary. Dawn Mason's old district gave her so many votes that she was competitive despite trailing Compton badly elsewhere, and both Chong and Chow used the 37th and West Seattle as their strongest bases. It's never safe to project policies and votes based on racial (or gender or sexual preference) identity, but it seems like we're going back to the days when the south end of town was not well represented, or served, by City Hall.

Secondly, and most disturbingly, the candidates who are winning are the ones who aren't saying anything. There have been very few clues as to how Nicastro, Wills, or Compton will vote once on council. Nicastro has been largely a single-issue candidate (renters' rights) and not very consistent even on that. Compton seems to think that his experience interviewing people is some sort of substitute for having a political philosophy, although he's operating largely on the old boy network paradigm and will probably vote accordingly. And Wills has exhibited a frightening ability to say whatever her audience wants to hear, while not actually saying anything, and exhibiting her eerie cheerleader smile throughout. (Early speculation centered on her body having been snatched by aliens or the undead—"Have a Nice Day!"—but there's been no evidence to support that.)

Unless something happens to shake up the City Council races—and we do have a few weeks left—all indications are that we'll be electing a slate of newcomers that really haven't needed to articulate an understanding of issues facing the city in coming years. If that turns out to be the case, somehow the process has failed.

 
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