In the U.S., one big difference between state-level elections in the East and the West is the widespread presence in much of the latter of ballot measures. I don’t mean bond issues–they are found almost everywhere–but initiatives, referendums and proposals to raise property taxes. Products of the Progressive Era, ballot measures reflect a suspicion of and limit on elected representative democracy. Still, sorting out motives can be an illuminating and even entertaining endeavor that says something about the local condition.
For instance, one Seattle ballot question next week appears to me to reflect the belief by city officials that the hoards of young people moving to Seattle for all those high tech jobs actually aren’t all that smart.
The measure would raise property taxes by nearly $1 billion over 10 years to fund expansively defined transportation projects. From what I can tell, backers of the “Move Seattle” measure–Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council–are hoping that the thousands of new renters flooding into the city won’t realize that higher property taxes will be passed onto them in the form of higher rents.
The powers-that-be also seem to be hoping the newcomers aren’t too aware of government’s rather poor track record in delivering on promises when it comes to infrastructure. Botched planning, huge delays and cost overruns are everywhere. The expiring transportation tax that this new measure, if approved, would double was called “Bridging The Gap” when approved in 2006, long before I became New To Seattle. It’s pretty clear to me that no gap was ever bridged. “Nibbling at the Gap” would have been a lot more accurate, but probably not a terrific campaign slogan.
So let’s see. I live in a town where a $1.4 billion vehicular tunnel project that actually would reduce capacity on one of the only two north-south limited-access roads has been stuck for a year due to a stuck tunneling machine that isn’t moving anytime soon. I live in a town where a $320 million project to shore up the ancient seawall keeping Puget Sound from flooding much of the downtown area managed almost immediately to develop huge cost overruns and is now projected to cost $410 million. I live in a town where one major city street rebuilding project has been in the works for 40 years. I live in a town where even construction of a simple–and utterly unnecessary–trolley line is months behind schedule.
But hey, at least I live in a town where it’s easy to get high. You probably will not be surprised to know that was the result of a ballot question, too. Q.E.D.
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