In Other News...
Candidates, Legislation, Viaduct, and Traffic
Earlier this year, a group of consumer advocates started pushing House Bill 1020 in Olympia to cap payday-loan interest rates at 36 percent. Now Representative Steve Kirby (D-29, Tacoma) is pushing an alternative, House Bill 1817. This option would set up a 60-day payment plan, allowing consumers to pay back the loan in four installments. The payment plan would only be available once a year. The second bill also doesn't address the high interest rates associated with payday loans—nearly 400 percent APR—or allegations that the businesses target the poor and minorities. Aaron Toso of Statewide Poverty Action Network says the bill resembles a similar payment plan already in place and does very little to protect consumers.
Critics also say the latter bill doesn't do much to prevent people from taking out multiple loans. Asked what safeguards there are in place to stop people from reentering the cycle of debt, Kirby said: "Um, intelligence? What prevents me from walking out in front of the bus?" He says the once-a-year payment-plan option should be enough. "If you went to one of these places and found out you screwed up... You have an opportunity to jump off." Kirby, whose committee would be the first to consider any regulation of the industry, says he never planned on considering the cap.
According to Toso, people associated with the local payday lender MoneyTree (its employees, owners, and lobbyists) have made more than $300,000 in political contributions since 2000, including at least $1,200 to Kirby. ANGELA VALDEZ
With the filing deadline less than six months away, two candidates have officially announced that they will run for Seattle City Council: former UW football player Bruce Harrell and ex-city ethics director Tim Burgess. Burgess, who has declared against incumbent David Della, has raised at least $13,600 in the three weeks since he formed his campaign committee in early January, $7,500 of that from his own personal funds. He already has a website (www.timothyburgess2007.com) and has also hired a heavyweight consultant, Christian Sinderman (who ran campaigns for Jan Drago, Sally Clark, and successful challenger Tom Rasmussen). ERICA C. BARNETT
Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis presented an updated finance plan for the abridged tunnel proposal before the senate transportation committee on January 24. It was much different than the funding plan Mayor Greg Nickels presented to Governor Christine Gregoire a week earlier. The updated plan explicitly drops the $800 million from the Regional Transportation Improvement District and the $200 million from the port that Nickels had included.
However, Ceis continued to include Local Improvement District money (questionable because it would require area businesses to approve the plan with a supermajority vote). Ceis also included the $373 million in additional state funding that Gregoire pledged to the viaduct project late last year. At the January 17 meeting, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) reportedly contested Nickels's attempt to include that money.
It was the same story at the later meeting, where transportation chair Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Island and Skagit County) also scoffed at the $373 million. Pushed to explain why he included that money, Ceis told Haugen, "It's in the governor's budget." Haugen chuckled: "The governor's budget and our budget are two different things." JOSH FEIT
Driving alone at rush hour on Puget Sound—area freeways now takes longer than ever, the Seattle Times reported on January 26. The state DOT attributed the increase, which ranged from 4 to 14 minutes, to job growth, more cars, and the lack of new roads or mass transit.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the report was how little time it takes to get from Seattle to the Eastside: 24 minutes to Issaquah, 33 minutes to Redmond, 25 minutes to Bellevue. (Remember, these are rush-hour averages.)
Come on: Whining about a 20-minute commute is like bitching when Starbucks takes five minutes to make your latte instead of three. Yes, it's time wasted, but not that much—especially when compared to the nightmare commutes faced by drivers in places like Houston, where roads are plentiful and mass transit scarce.
What the study really illustrates is that we can't build our way out of congestion (see, again, Houston); and yet things aren't bad enough yet to force people to change their car-loving ways. As long as it's easier to drive alone than carpool or take transit, people will drive alone—and mass transit won't get built. This is the paradox Seattle finds itself in: traffic bad enough to make people whine, but not bad enough to convince them to invest in real transit that will get people out of their cars. ERICA C. BARNETT
Quote of the Week
"I'm not sure I'll vote for my own bill."
—Senator Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill, U-District, Wallingford) explaining that he may abandon his bill—the one that merges Sound Transit and the regional roads package into one ballot measure—if the tortured roads package ends up being "about sprawl in Pierce County while funding and mitigation issues for the 520 bridge are not addressed."