Seattle’s home state still has country’s most regressive tax system

regressive tax systemThis is not exactly news, but bears repeating. Liberal Washington State, of which Seattle is the largest city, continues to have the country’s most regressive–and therefore illiberal–tax system. That means the burden on the poor from state and local taxes is a lot higher than on, say, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, Ken Fisher and the six others on the Forbes 400 list who call the Evergreen State their (tax) home.

Here’s how my long-time journalistic colleague Janet Novack summarized the latest research on this morning:

 Overall, the bottom 20% of Washington State’s nonelderly households, who earn less than $21,000 a year, will pay 16.8% of their income in state and local taxes this year, compared to the 2.4% of income the top 1% earning more than $507,000, will pay, according to the report from the left leaning Institute On Taxation & Economic Policy.

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Fifth candidate in Seattle for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’

America's Stupidest CharitiesThis is going to take some explaining. Public Safety Employees Union 519 right here in Seattle is the fifth candidate for my list of  “America’s Stupidest Charities.”

But, you might think reasonably, a labor union acts naturally in the self-interest of its own members and is not charitable as the phrase is commonly understood. So how can it be considered a charity, let alone one potentially deemed stupid?

The short answer is the union’s ongoing involvement in a telemarketing campaign that looks like a charitable fundraising effort concerning child safety but which appears to me at least as much a ploy to enrich the union’s coffers and those of the telemarketer.

The stupidity part comes from my definition of stupidity: an organization that solicit money from the New To Seattle world headquarters despite being the subject of a previous critical post. How much more stupid can stupid be?

There also are some other interesting issues floating around. Among them: use of the name of a nonexistent cop organization–the King County Police Union–by a labor group most of whose members are not cops; a false claim of tax deductibility and what I would call rather loose assertions of high financial efficiency.

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Seattle murder rate drops, but …

Seattle murder rateMy, how time flies.

During the first half of 2012 Seattle politicians and thought leaders were in a positive panic. There were seven murders in the city during the year’s first 55 days, compared with two for the same period of 2011. The hue and cry got even worse in May of that year when the murder of five by Ian Stawicky, the crazed killer starting at Seattle’s Cafe Racer, brought the yearly count to 21–one above all of 2011.

The mayor called for new measures. The editorial page of The Seattle Times demanded “concrete measures” without specifying exactly what they should be, while a columnist declared gunfire “could strike anyone, anywhere, at any time.” People were in a tizzy.

In both that February and May, I wrote here the city was wildly overreacting. In my New To Seattle view the community, while understandably upset over any killings, was committing some fundamental errors of statistical modeling. These included declaring changes in long-term trends using data from ridiculously short periods of time, and ignoring the tendency of numbers, all other things being equal, to revert to the mean.

What do you know? By the end of 2012, the murder count had risen, but only to 26–exactly the average of the past 10 years, and, with a growing population, a lower per-capita rate.

I bring this up again because we’ve just closed the books on 2014, two years later. How many murders in Seattle? By my count, 21. That’s also below the new 10-year average of 24 and, with the added population, maybe the second-lowest single-year murder rate of the past half-century.

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The tunnel sinking Seattle, and other holiday tales

tunnel sinking Seattle

Seattle skyline (photo USA Today)

With a booming economy, an influx of new residents and legal recreational pot, Seattle fancies itself a happenin’ place as it dances through the end-of-the-year holiday period. The problem, unfortunately, is that not all of the happenings are uplifting.

The world’s largest tunnel boring machine–stuck under the Seattle waterfront, where it has barely budged since stalling two Pearl Harbor Days ago–is so heavy (6,700 tons) that it has begun to cause cracks in nearby office buildings, some of the oldest in earthquake-prone Seattle and therefore probably the most rickety. The Japanese-made machine is supposed to be boring a one-lane-in-each-direction underground toll road for nearly two miles so that the two-lanes-in-each-direction above-ground free Alaskan Way Viaduct can be removed.

The machine is called Bertha–not alliteratively because it is big, although, with a diameter of 57 feet, it is, but in honor of Seattle’s first and only woman mayor, Bertha Landes, elected in 1926. The project is proving to be a libel on her good name. The project was abruptly halted on December 7, 2013, after Bertha hit a metal pipe that the parties–the Washington State Department of Transportation and private contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners–both knew about but didn’t bother to remove. The mess has become a tourist attraction.

The current completion date has been pushed back nearly two years, to late 2017. Bets, anyone? As for the cost, well, officially it has stayed at $4 billion, including $1.4 billion just for the boring, although it’s hard to see how this won’t be busted big time. Who might pick up any extra tab? The tolls can’t possibly be put high enough (especially since there would be any number of free city street alternatives for motorists). One way or the other, it likely would be taxpayers, although it remains to be seen whether it would be those of just Seattle or the state as a whole. Continue reading

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Fourth candidate in Seattle for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’

stupidest charitiesA major characteristic of the end-of-the-year holiday is exchange of gifts. After it recently cold-called me, a veterans group that I then described in this space as “iffy”–mainly because its paid fundraisers got almost all the money donated–just cold-called again asking for money.

Now that’s a gift to me, since it provides material to write about.The call was on behalf of The Center for American Homeless Veterans, doing business as the Association for Homeless and Disabled Veterans, headquartered in Falls Church, Va.

And here’s my gift back to the nonprofit, which in its latest reporting period handed over 90% of the $2.1 million raised to outside fundraisers rather than spend that money on something worthwhile. I’m officially adding CAHV as an candidate for my list of “America’s Stupidest Charities.” The largely self-nominating criteria is simple: A dubious charity solicits money from the New To Seattle world headquarters despite being the subject of a previous critical post.

CAHV becomes the fourth contender for my stupidest-charities list, a competition that started earlier this year after a rash of follow-up calls. Here are the others:

With such formidable competition, it’s really hard for a nonprofit to stand out. But CAHV, whose filings say it advocates and lobbies for troubled veterans, is trying.

CAHV is one of many sketchy charities that employ computer-driven interactive voices. The persona on the earlier call from CAHV used the name “Eric Thornton.” This latest call was in the name that I understood to be “Mike McCann.”

Like “Thornton,” “McCann” wasn’t very good at answering my questions. After he said a contribution would go to help disabled or homeless veterans, I jumped in and asked if that meant paying for actual facilities or programs to help vets. CAHV’s filings say no; what’s left of the gifts after the fundraisers get their hefty cut goes solely to pay for advocacy.

“McCann” didn’t know. “I’m in training right now,” he said, a rather amusing statement for a computer but one I frequently hear in these situations. “McCann” offered to get a supervisor on the line to answer my question. Sure, I said.

After some fumbling–I was inadvertently routed to someone in the “records department”–a real human identifying himself as Leslie Heskett came on the line. But he couldn’t answer my question, either. “I don’t have that information in front of me,” he said. Heskett, who said he really worked for paid fundraiser Residential Programs Inc., gave me a number I could call for more information. However, he agreed with me that his organization’s calling would-be donors and then telling them that they had to make another call to get basic information wasn’t such a hot fund-raising strategy.

But then again, difficulty in getting information out of CAHV seems to be part of its m.o. Several days ago, I sent an email seeking more information to its president, ex-Army major Brian A. Hampton, who, with another veterans charity he heads out of the same office, was paid as much as $181,668, or more than 35% of what remained after the telemarketers for both charities got their cut. That other charity, Circle of Friends for American Veterans, made the now-famous Tampa Bay Times list last year of “America’s Worst Charities.”

My email was sent via a page on the CAHV website that proclaims, “We‘ll be happy to return your comment, question or suggestion.

I’m still waiting for a response. It would be another gift.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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Another iffy veterans group trolls in Seattle

iffy veterans groupThe logo of The Center for American Homeless Veterans, displayed here, proclaims, “Put Veterans First.” But after reviewing its financial filings, I’d say the more accurate motto would be “Put Paid Fundraisers First.” I mean, what other conclusion is possible about an organization that handed the overwhelming bulk of money raised from the public in the name of a good cause to paid telemarketers?

Operating under the trade name Association for Homeless and Disabled Veterans, fundraisers for CAHV have been cold-calling around. One such cold call came recently to the New To Seattle world headquarters. Continue reading

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Are Seattle protests a good time–or biding time?

Seattle protests

Scene in Ferguson, Mo. (via Wikipedia)

In light of recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Cleveland and God know where else, it wouldn’t be surprising that liberal activists in Seattle want to let their positions be known. But to me their actions seem more like college-style pranks than serious protests.

In the past 10 days there have a Christmas tree lighting disruption, a protest in the middle of the night on the major Interstate highway, and–somewhat bizarrely–talk about shutting down a fundraiser for the homeless. That’s on top on almost daily marches after dusk from the downtown core to Capitol Hill, where there happen to be a lot of nice coffee shops and eateries that stay open late.

I’d call this at most civil disobedience light. Sort of a trendy thing to do.

For now, anyway. Continue reading

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Marshawn Lynch charity spent little on claimed mission

Marshawn Lynch charity

Marshawn Lynch (via Wikipedia)

I don’t know about you, but it offends me greatly that the National Football League fined Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn (Beast Mode) Lynch $100,000 for not talking to the media. It’s clear he’s painfully shy as a speaker, perhaps going back to a tough upbringing in tough Oakland, Calif. To me, the NFL action is like punishing a paraplegic for not walking. There are plenty of people around Lynch in Seattle football more than willing to yak: smooth quarterback Russell Wilson, brash cornerback Richard Sherman, who has made millions in subsequent endorsements from a now-legendary 10-second rant after last year’s conference championship en route to the Super Bowl; and, of course, seemingly earnest coach Pete Carroll.

Still, to stop another fine, after yesterday’s impressive 19-3 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Lynch answered 22 questions from the media. Sort of. According to, he used just 50 words to answer all of them, mostly nonresponsively. But more than half the words came in an almost random response to a question about whether he had heating pads in his cleats. “I got a foundation dinner at the Edgewater on Dec. 14, to help benefit the inner-city youth out in Oakland and try and raise money to build a youth center,” the Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying.

Now that got my attention here at the New To Seattle world headquarters, which has seen its share of iffy charitable pitches. Lynch has a foundation, eh? How much of the money raised went to charitable good works?

Turns out, not very much. Less than a quarter. And that’s not the only eyebrow-raiser. Continue reading

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Fake no-parking markings fester across Seattle

fake no-parking markingsSeattle’s industrial Interbay neighborhood near where I live has an exercise facility that is set back from W. Bertona Street with a string of signs along its facade in front of which cars can park head-in. “DENALI FITNESS PARKING ONLY,” proclaim the signs, one of which is in the accompanying picture facing a parked car.

There’s a small problem with this. According to government tax maps online, the parking area is public property on a public right-of-way. The signs certainly aren’t issued by the City of Seattle. That means anyone can park there, for days at a time if desired, pumping absolutely no iron. The restricted parking demand is just hot air.

I called the club. The person answering the phone said he was unaware of the signs–sort of hard to believe–and no supervisors were around to answer my questions.

But this fits into a pattern I have seen since becoming New To Seattle. Some folks have taken the law into their own hands by posting their own no-parking signs or painting curbs in various car-go-away colors: yellow, white or occasionally red. Continue reading

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Don’t call Seattle cops unless there’s blood

Don't call Seattle cops unless there's bloodHere in Seattle, a city with an uninspiring police department, one of its most uninspiring aspects is currently playing itself out in the pages of The Seattle Times. It turns out that police dispatchers tell callers reporting property thefts the cops aren’t going to do anything and that the best option is to file a claim with their insurance company. This is true even if the crime just took place and the caller is following the perps and providing their location in real time!

Apparently, this dereliction of duty–I’d call it the don’t-call-Seattle-cops-unless-there’s-blood policy–has been going on for awhile. It burst into full view only when one of the paper’s columnists, Danny Westneat, found his car broken into after a youth soccer match, used an app to track a stolen cell phone and managed to eyeball the getaway car with the thieves still inside and his stolen goods in their hands. He called the cops, but they did little.

Westneat’s column of outrage detailing the events, which the police don’t really deny, continues to reverberate mightily. It’s been the talk of Seattle. Radio talk show hosts have been hammering away. The new police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, who just arrived from Boston and seems to get hit regularly with so many unpleasant surprises that those harsh New England winters suddenly might seem far more inviting, vowed an investigation. Continue reading

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Set far from Seattle, ‘OFFSIDE: A Mystery,’ my debut novel, is about soccer parents, rich California and a dead referee

OFFSIDE: A MysteryMy debut novel was just published, and I hope it doesn’t prove to be too autobiographical.

The title is OFFSIDE: A Mystery. The one-sentence summary: The murder of an adult referee of youth soccer in a ritzy Los Angeles suburb at the height of the real estate bubble in 2006 is blamed on a loud-mouth coach upset about a call.

The reason for my concern? I have been an adult referee of youth soccer now for 17 years, in New Mexico, the Los Angeles area and–since becoming New To Seattle in 2011–around Puget Sound.

On occasion, coaches and parents–but rarely players–yell at me. I’m hardly infallible, but–unlike, say, the Pope–I do have a whistle.

Fortunately, no one has taken such discontent concerning me to that kind of level, in Seattle or anywhere else. I should point out, however, that during my six years of refereeing in New Mexico, the state legislature deemed it necessary to make it a third-degree felony to slug a referee.

This post is a shameless plug for my book, published by Booktrope, of Seattle, and which you can buy on by clicking here. (It’s also available on Barnes & Noble/Nook and iBooks.) And since this is a shameless plug for my book, I can write about some of its themes with no fear of an undisclosed bias or conflict-of-interest. Continue reading

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Seattle has Mickey Mouse elections–really

Mickey Mouse elections

Actually mentioned in official Seattle election materials

Here in Seattle, King County Elections just sent a formal mailing to all voters containing this written plea: “Please, don’t write ‘none of the above’ or a frivolous name such as Mickey Mouse or Bigfoot on the write-in line.” Too much time and trouble to count sure losers, it was claimed.

Yet on the November 4 ballot a disbarred lawyer is a listed candidate for the state Supreme Court. Voters also will pass judgment on an initiative that looks like a gun-control measure but is exactly the opposite. And sort out the issues in the confusingly numbered Proposition No. 1–and Proposition No. 1A–and Proposition No. 1B–and Citizen Petition No. 1.

With this kind of craziness in the mail-ballot-only election, I’d tell you a vote for the Mouse is at least a valid act of political protest. And maybe a lot less subject to future regret for those of us New To Seattle, too. Continue reading

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Seattle ducks racial blame again by nixing Columbus Day

Columbus Day

Christopher Columbus statue by Douglas Bennet, Seattle waterfront

It could be viewed as an act of political correctness. The City Council in liberal Seattle voted unanimously this week that the second Monday in October henceforth will be called Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and not Columbus Day, as it’s known in many other places across the country and the entire Federal Government.

Now, there’s nothing new about the campaign to dishonor Christopher Columbus, the Italian working for Spain on a salary-plus-profit-sharing plan who starting in 1492 sailed the ocean blue four times from Europe (and never once actually landed in North America proper). Native Americans–called Indians because Columbus thought he was near India–blame him for triggering the immigration of Europeans carrying deadly illnesses and deadly intentions from the Old World to the New World. Also, Columbus also kidnapped a number of Indians, not all of whom survived the return journey across the Atlantic. This all led to the ultimate relegation of Indians in the social and economic order of things.

Here in Seattle, authorities worried about vandalism long have found it necessary around Columbus Day to crate the remarkably unappealing 1978 statute of Columbus by sculptor Douglas Bennet along the Seattle waterfront near the Seattle Aquarium. (Putting statues of famous explorers along waterways they never saw is something of a grand Seattle tradition; there is also a 17-foot-high statue facing Puget Sound of Leif Erikson, the Viking explorer who may have beaten Columbus across the Atlantic by 500 years but also came nowhere near the Pacific Northwest.)

However, in implicitly blaming Columbus for the downfall of local Indians, I find Seattle politicians somewhat disingenuous. Sure, the city was named for the local Indian chief. But Seattle and his tribes were quickly hustled out of town by gringos arriving from Illinois in the mid-19th century, their lands taken for little compensation and treaty obligations not fulfilled. The new, growing city on the eastern edge of Puget Sound later even made it illegal for Indians to live in the place named for their chief. Continue reading

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Another iffy police outfit calls around Seattle

iffy police outfitThe caller to the New To Seattle world headquarters was Nathan. At least that’s the name he gave. He solicited money for the Washington State Law Enforcement Association, which he said did all kinds of good things for public safety and the citizens of Washington State. He pushed hard to get me to commit to a $15 pledge. I pushed back by asking questions.

As some of Nathan’s answers were slightly off kilter, highly repetitive or delayed, I quickly realized he was another of those computer-controlled interactive characters who occasionally call asking for money. I think Nathan, or his human supervisor secretly monitoring the call, got on to me, too. He/they soon stopped asking for money and hung up.

Regular visitors to the space know what happened next. I started poking around the Internet, looking for documents to see what I could learn about WSLEA.

I learned a lot. The biggest takeaway was this: By its very own admission, less than 4% of what WSLEA spent in the latest year for which I could find filings related directly to its stated mission of helping law enforcement. The main reason for this: A whopping 83% of the money raised by Nathan and any fellow digital dialers got siphoned off by their paid telemarketing overlords, based in far-away Minnesota.

To put this another way (and rounding), of every dollar given by folks like you, 83 cents went straight to a professional fundraiser, 8 cents went for WSLEA’s management and certain overhead, and 5 cents was put in the bank. That left just 4 cents of your dollar to help fight the criminal element of Washington State. Continue reading

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New Seattle pot store misspells cannabis

Pot store misspells cannabisClick on headline above to see comments below

Readers know that since becoming New To Seattle I have railed on here (and here and here) about poor local signage. But it’s hard to top what I read in today’s Seattle Times about the opening of the city’s third pot store since the legalization of recreational marijuana:

Oltion Hyseni had been working nonstop since July on his version of the American dream — opening a marijuana store in Seattle. He opened Ocean Greens at 4:20 p.m. Thursday, but there was a hitch.

“Our sign guy was stoned this morning,” said Hyseni, 37, with a smile. “He misspelled cannabis.”

“That’s pretty embarrassing,” said store manager David Preuet. “We should have noticed that.”

Hyseni made a quick call to the sign company, which sent an employee out to unpeel an “I” and replace it with an “A.”


Some things require no further comment from me. This is one of them.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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Richest people in Seattle get a lot richer

richest people in SeattleThe world’s biggest tunnel machine remains stuck under Seattle, and there are problems building a replacement to the world’s longest floating bridge leaving town to the east. But unlike these big-money public projects around Seattle, though, big-money humans are doing just fine, thank you.

The new Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans was released this morning. In a year the collective net worth of the nine from the Seattle area went up a hefty $18.75 billion to, by my quick New To Seattle reckoning, $161.15 billion. That’s a 13.2% increase, which by any measure beats T-bills. Not a single entrant declined in net worth.

As you might guess, nearly half the gain, $9 billion, accrued to Bill Gates, again No. 1 in the country (for the 21st consecutive year) with a stash valued at $81 billion. He apparently just can’t give it away fast enough to his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Next richest locally is Jeff Bezos, who, despite financial losses at his, saw his net worth rise $3.3 billion to $30.5 billion, putting him No. 15 in the nation. He recently paid $250 million to purchase The Washington Post.

The U.S. is so lousy with billionaires, Forbes says, that 113 didn’t even make the list of the 400 heaviest. But here’s a quick run-down on the others from the Puget Sound area who did: Continue reading

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Around Seattle, affiliate of Miss America gilds lily, too

Miss America gilds lily

Miss Washington Kailee Dunn (via Miss Washington Scholarship Organization)

As a rewrite man and editor on Philadelphia’s Evening and Sunday Bulletin in the pre-Internet 1970s, I occasionally worked in the city room on the final Saturday night of the Miss America Pageant, 60 miles away in Atlantic City. After the 10 semi-finalists were announced, I wrote 10 different opening paragraphs and headlines as though each had won. Then the pairs were set in type.

Later, I went downstairs to the paper’s dank composing room, where I stood holding an open phone line to the Miss America press box. In those days reporters next to the Atlantic City Convention Hall stage got a heads-up on the winner before the big announcement on national television. Our man on the scene gave me the word. I told the compositor which headline and lead to use, and the page form was sent off to be plated.

A few minutes later, as Bert Parks warbled, “There She Is, Miss America,” the Bulletin‘s giant line of presses already were rolling with the big news stripped across the top of the late edition’s front page.  At least in those days, it was big news.

John Oliver’s new HBO comedy show, “Last Week Tonight,” got a lot of recent attention for its takedown of the Miss America pageant. Part of that might have been surprise to many that the event even was still around. It’s just not as big a deal as it once was. But much of the notice was due to Oliver’s revelations that the show’s organizers essentially lied about the amount of scholarship for all those talented, fetching lasses.

The Miss America Organization said far and wide that $45 million of scholarship aid was in the kitty. What Oliver revealed was that the amount actually handed out was only a small fraction–maybe $4 million. The $45 million figure was simply the amount of impossible-to-all-use offers the pageant had from various sponsors and colleges. It was an immense deception, and one the organization did not rebut well in the wake of Oliver’s reporting.

Oliver’s staff had dug the damning data out of public Form 990 tax filings made by the Miss America Organization and its state affiliates. Here at the New To Seattle world headquarters, I have been known to leaf through such papers to discover locally trolling charities spending next to nothing raised on the lofty causes they espouse.

Oliver got me to wondering. Was the Washington State affiliate of the Miss America operation any better than the parent?

Not really. Continue reading

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In Seattle, Comcast track record hurts merger bid

Comcast track recordComcast Corp. is trying to win the hearts and minds of federal regulators whose approval is needed for its $45 billion takeover merger with Time Warner Cable. One of the arguments is that Internet service will get better.

Give me a break.

Under its Xfinity brand name, Comcast has close to a monopoly on wired broadband service in Seattle. I’m here to tell you the Comcast track record is slow, unreliable and overpriced.

In my Magnolia neighborhood, I have lost Internet and Internet-supplied phone service a half-dozen times or so in the past year, for periods ranging from a few minutes to hours. In other instances the speed has fallen way below what Comcast propaganda touted. Still, my monthly Comcast bill just went up 13%.

I don’t think it’s just me. Comcast’s operational snafus in Seattle are so persistent that complaining customers are told they can use their cell phones to check on problems. This is amazing considering that Comcast, a phone service provider, doesn’t offer cells. When was the last time you repeatedly heard any company routinely refer complaining customers to direct competitors?

Meanwhile, Comcast has the chutzpah to accuse merger opponents of extortion. Give me another break. Continue reading

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Will Seattle voters raise the nation’s highest big-city sales tax?

highest big-city sales taxVoters in Seattle will be asked in November whether they want to raise the sales tax to help bail out the local bus system. The exact wording on the ballot likely will not point out that Seattle already has the nation’s highest major-city sales tax.

In case you’re contemplating a visit to Seattle, be aware that the local total sales tax bite right now is 9.5%. That’s above every big city in the country (No. 2, apparently, is Chicago at 9.25%). I say big-city because there are a few tiny places out there with far higher rates. Tops, according to the Tax Foundation, is the 12.725%–one penny for every eight others–charged in Tuba City, Ariz. (population 8,600), which, spider-like, quietly waits to catch unwary tourists en route to the nearby Grand Canyon.

The ballot question here in Seattle is whether to raise the tax by 0.1 percentage point to 9.6%. There’s an interesting back story behind this proposal, and not one that reflects terribly well on Seattle-area officials. Continue reading

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