Letters to the Editor

"Sure, Kerry is no Howard Dean on the excitement factor, but he is no way near as dull as Al Gore, who won the popular vote against Bush. . . . "

BLOATED BARONS

Veteran reporter Rick Anderson is at it again, and we the common citizenry should all be grateful ["$64 Billion Falls Through the Tax Cracks," Feb. 18]. His piece on the erosion of Washington's tax base was a journalistic tour de force that should be required reading in every civics, political science, and economics class in this state. By feeding all manner of tax breaks and "incentives" to the gluttonous hogs at the corporate trough, our shrinking public coffers become the responsibility of Joe and Susie Six-Pack. And at a time when myriad public services are trimmed or eliminated altogether, working people face the additional indignity of a deteriorating job market. As we are learning, and as Anderson points out, a lot of jobs don't exactly disappear—they just get outsourced to India or Mexico, where workers do the same job for a fraction of the wage once paid the now-unemployed American. The bloated robber barons and their dissembling political allies in the fraudulent Bush administration have the gall to assure us that this does us all a great deal of good. Do they really think Americans are that stupid?

Joe Martin

Seattle

CLUELESS PUBLIC

Rick Anderson's report on Olympia tax giveaways to Boeing—and just about anyone else who asks—was excellent ["$64 Billion Falls Through the Tax Cracks," Feb. 18]. But we're just one little cog in the military-industrial-congressional juggernaut here in Washington state. Elsewhere, the Lockheed Martins and Northrop Grummans and many others also are gorging at the taxpayer tit, with Halliburton, of course, the ultimate fusion of government and bald-faced, buccaneering free enterprise.

The scariest part was trade-policy analyst Maria Cain's conclusion: "Unfortunately, I don't think the public has a clue about how we're getting ripped off."

Frank Chesley

Seattle

SMALL BIZ BURDEN

Thanks for Rick Anderson's article on the plethora of tax breaks for select Washington businesses ["$64 Billion Falls Through the Tax Cracks," Feb. 18]. I'm glad someone's addressed this issue head-on. Anderson made reference to the fact that the state's B&O tax structure hits the startups and low-margin businesses hardest. As a self-employed person in a service business, I feel particularly resentful of the tax breaks for large corporations. Although there's the small business tax credit to take advantage of, it's reduced to zip as gross income inches toward $50,000. You could have a net loss, but it doesn't matter to the Department of Revenue. If you consider the cost of doing business and the fact that we pay both sides of the federal self-employment tax, pay the highest rates for health insurance, and don't have paid sick leave, etc., it becomes obvious that $50,000 in self- employment revenue is not a lot of money.

The self-employed are shouldering way more than their fair share, while Boeing and the host of other industries Anderson cited get free passes because they "create jobs." ARRGH!

Mary Ann Kae

Seattle

NOBLE CAUSE

Rick Anderson wrote a great piece on exemptions ["$64 Billion Falls Through the Tax Cracks," Feb. 18]. I have been advocating for review for some years now. Exemptions review has been a formalized Assessor Association priority for over three years. Our bills have all failed to make it. Also, as the Assessor Association member of the Gates Commission Advisory Group, I lobbied hard to get exemptions review into their report. I very much appreciate Anderson's attention and great article. I have had quite a few ugly fights on this issue. In 2002, a new record for property tax exemption proposals was set (38), replaced with a new record in 2003 (39 considered). I am in my eighth year as chair of the Assessors Legislative Committee, and in the years 1997-2003, there were 878 different property tax system bills introduced, many of them tax breaks, few giving relief from the extra burden passed on to homeowners from exemptions and their automatic tax shifts. This year it's déjà vu, but not as many in a short session. It is not surprising to me how initiatives tap into the anger, frustration, and alienation of the citizenry when it comes to property taxes. Tim Eyman's initiative suggests it's all the fault of local governments. He is looking in the wrong direction and is confusing cause and effect. He lets the state off the hook. Too bad.

Scott Noble

King County Assessor

LEARN FROM EYMAN

Thanks for Knute Berger's column summarizing the liberal's dilemma on state taxes [Mossback, "Is Eyman Right?" Feb. 18] and for the cover article detailing all of the questionable tax breaks that contribute to the problem ["$64 Billion Falls Through the Tax Cracks"]. Fortunately, the solution seems obvious. Tim Eyman is wrong, but if we can't beat him, why not learn from him? How about sponsoring an initiative to repeal some of those exemptions?

Jonathan Brown

Seattle

MOSSBACK'S BELLY

"Is Eyman Right?" [Mossback, Feb. 18]: Well, noooo, although Knute Berger argues in his column that he might be. I understand the frustration. Yes, it is galling that our state government throws ever more tax breaks and other favors at big business. But guess what: The real problem here and all over the country is that the mega-businesses have so much power that they can shake down state and local governments at will. Starving public services is not going to shame these guys into paying their share, nor will it do much good for the rest of us.

Voting in these stupid antitax initiatives is nothing but frustrated lashing out and will just make the state more dysfunctional, paralyzed, and poorly run. How is this supposed to make the business behemoths suddenly sit up and behave like they are part of the community? How, exactly, will Washington be a better place to do business if these initiatives are voted in?

Oh, and speaking of starving—while Berger has come to believe that the state won't get the message unless people are hurt, does he expect his own belly to be empty while he is sending this message to Locke, et al.? I think he is a bit too willing to bind burdens for other people to carry. We can do without that kind of "help."

Judy DeLaittre

Seattle

THE KILLING OF AMERICA

Finally!!! Knute Berger's getting the idea [Mossback, "Is Eyman Right?" Feb. 18]! We middle-class-rapidly-becoming-poor-class people want to reverse all the taxes and shut everything down as a wake-up call. Then, let's start with a clean slate and do it better next time. When you're up to your ass in alligators, you have no patience for politicians or CEOs/corporations (or televangelists, lawyers, or used-car salesmen, for that matter). Berger needs to write more on outsourcing of American jobs killing the country, on illegal immigration killing the country, on corporate greed and politicians' corruptness killing the country. He needs to write about the unholy AMA/FDA/FTC/ pharmaceuticals alliance killing (and I mean really) the country. And he needs to do it now.

Leonard Plodzien

Renton

BRIGHT INVESTMENTS

We're happy to see the Seattle Weekly participating in the dialogue about Seattle City Light but are disturbed about some inaccuracies in the Feb. 18 article ["Danger, High Voltage"]. It quotes anonymously a regional utility manager as blaming investments in environmental programs as the reason for the large debt that City Light accumulated. That is just not the case. The Advisory Board spent nine months carefully studying the utility's finances and gaining input from the bond rating agencies, CEOs of neighboring utilities, and Seattle City Light's independent financial advisers.

The Weekly article calls out City Light's conservation and Skagit salmon recovery programs as major contributors to debt. The Skagit River now has the largest and healthiest populations of wild salmon in the Northwest. It is one of the few success stories in salmon recovery in the nation. Chum and pink salmon populations have increased six- to eightfold, while the Upper Skagit chinook population is the only one in Puget Sound that is increasing rather than declining. All of this has been accomplished at the cost of about 25 cents a month to the average residential customer. And these programs are pay as you go; less than one-tenth of 1 percent of City Light's outstanding debt is due to fish recovery.

Likewise, conservation has had a small effect on City Light debt. Less than 8 percent of outstanding debt is attributable to conservation programs. Meanwhile, over the last two decades, customers participating in conservation programs have saved $367 million in reduced energy bills. Seattle City Light's leadership on behalf of its customers in investing in efficiency programs has resulted in significant savings over the last two decades for all of its customers. During the West Coast energy crisis, for example, the utility's purchased power costs were $137 million less due to cumulative investments in conservation.

The high debt was primarily due to borrowing a large portion of the money needed for the utility's capital improvement projects and the costs of power supply shortfalls during the energy crisis.

One of our strong recommendations is to significantly reduce their debt ratios, but it is important that everyone understand how that debt was actually built up.

Sara Patton

Member, Seattle City Light Advisory Board

GEOV'S KERRY FLIP-FLOP

First, according to Geov Parrish, John Kerry is soooo . . . dull that Bush will cream him ["The Problem With Kerry," Feb. 4]. Sure, Kerry is no Howard Dean on the excitement factor, but he is no way near as dull as Al Gore, who won the popular vote against Bush, and, some would say, the election. So Geov's dull theory does not stand up. Now Geov says, Oops, I meant that Bush will lose to Kerry, not because Kerry has any merit, but because Bush will lose against himself ["President Kerry," Feb. 18]. Using that logic, any moron could run against Bush and win. Right. Gee, I can't wait until next week's installment of "I Hate Kerry."

Barry Hohstadt

Bainbridge Island

HOROSCOPE'S CHEAP SHOT

In regard to the lame joke about my religion, Scientology [Sign Language, Feb. 18]: Humor is one thing. And sure, most horoscopes are pretty amusing. But referring to a nationally recognized religion with millions of parishioners worldwide as an "evil cult" is just ignorant and spiteful. I realize that a writer of horoscopes is not required to do serious journalistic research. Still, before offending thousands of readers, one might want to do the perfunctory checkup of facts.

Friends drift apart, it happens. It's one of those unfortunate life things. And if such has occurred to the writer, I can empathize. But don't go blaming it on my religion. Scientology is all about building relationships and strengthening them, not tearing them asunder.

Bottom line, this horoscope column should not be used to trash someone's faith.

Greg Churilov

San Diego, CA

WHO'S A 'DHARMA BUM'?

Mark D. Fefer's review of my new book, Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (co- authored with Peter Manseau), is marred by several inaccuracies [This Week's Reads, Feb. 11]. Most serious is Fefer's claim that "the authors do not head for those terminally square suburban mega-churches where America's current religious revival is actually taking place." Besides the fact that we did indeed visit several suburban mega-churches, have written about them elsewhere, and are currently each engaged with second book projects that deal with them, Fefer is simply wrong about where this "religious revival" is taking place. He seems unfamiliar with current scholarship on this alleged revival—which would be fine, if he didn't go on to attack my co- author and me as "dharma bums" bent on some kind of hipster East Village orthodoxy. (Neither of us, by the way, lives in the East Village or any other neighborhood that could be considered "hip.")

There's quite a bit of argument among those who study such things about whether any revival is taking place at all—or if such surges simply reflect the changing interests of academe and its surveys. If there is new growth, though, it is not in the mega-churches—an experiment that has already begun to peter out—but in small-group Christianity.

Fefer also seems to misunderstand "heresy," claiming that our book lacks it since we do not propose replacing current beliefs with a new "philosophy for our times." We are indeed guilty of failing to propose big answers (try Deepak Chopra for those), but we're squarely in the tradition of heresy, as are more Americans than one might guess. The root of the word "heresy" is "to choose"; any faith (or faithlessness) that derives from more than simple cultural inheritance is heretical. Moreover, the word "heresy," as any theologian Fefer might have asked would have told him, presupposes some kind of belief—heresy shakes up a system, but it does not replace it wholesale.

These are, ultimately, minor points; but since Fefer has chosen to respond to our book with the apparent authority and venom of a Grand Inquisitor, I felt certain he'd appreciate a defense of the faith.

As for the "big ups" to God Fefer wishes our book had provided, I'm utterly stumped on what more he could want— well over three-quarters of the book consists of sympathetic portraits of believers. But Fefer demands "objective 'truth.'" What do you suggest, Mark? A blood sacrifice?

Jeff Sharlet

New York, N.Y.

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