Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn isn't exactly thrilled with City Council member and mayoral challenger Tim Burgess's new transportation plan. "Really, it's a great transportation plan," insists McGinn, "for 1975."
"There's no rail transit in it," McGinn complains about a "Plan for the Future" that apparently sees no future in rail. The topic of rail did come up at yesterday's press conference—specifically the question of extending rapid transit to Ballard—but Burgess claimed to be mode-agnostic. Burgess said he'd support whatever the studies recommend, "rubber or rail."
But that's not the mayor's only critique. McGinn characterizes Burgess's call for more transportation funding as hypocritical in the face of Burgess's successful 2009 effort to repeal the Head Tax and the $4.5 million a year in transportation spending it once produced. And he describes Burgess's focus on pothole repair as both sudden and unworkable.
"The first time Tim Burgess showed any interest in potholes was when he found one outside his campaign office," quips McGinn.
Burgess has proposed abandoning the city's current complaint-based pothole repair system for a grid-based system modeled on Seattle City Light's program of fixing street lamps a neighborhood at a time. But McGinn worries that this could leave the worst potholes unfilled while crews are busing patching less severely damaged streets. "We want to provide customer service," says McGinn.
Burgess also points to the City of Olympia's "Least-Cost Strategy to Pavement Management" as a model program, but McGinn counters that these strategies are already in place in practice, if not in name. It was on McGinn's watch that the city reinstituted "crack seal" and "chip seal" programs in an effort to prevent potholes before they appear. "We've invested $28 million over the past two years in spot repairs," says McGinn.
McGinn also disputes Burgess's assertion that the city has left transportation funding on the table by failing to burn through its available bonding capacity. McGinn explains that SDOT had been borrowing more than it needed because projects were coming in under budget. The city could have borrowed more money, says McGinn, but then it would have to find additional revenue to pay the bonds off. "It's a function of getting your cash flow right," explains McGinn.
And finally, McGinn dismisses the only transit proposal in Burgess's plan: A call to negotiate with Metro to assure that savings from city-financed transit improvements flow back to Seattle residents in the form of better service. "His plan is to ask for $6 million more from Metro at a time they're headed over a fiscal cliff," scoffs McGinn, suggesting that Burgess's efforts would be better spent fighting for the permanent taxing authority necessary for Metro to stave off massive service cuts.
But despite the dismissive tone of the mayor's rebuttal, he and Burgess don't disagree on everything. Burgess is calling for a substantial increase in the "Bridging the Gap" levy when it comes up for renewal. "Absolutely," says McGinn when asked if he could spend the extra money. "I was one of the original backers of Bridging the Gap," claims McGinn.
The truth is, there's not a whole lot of substance in Burgess's plan, nor was it much of an attack on McGinn's administration. The bulk of Burgess's plan merely highlights that we're not spending enough money maintaining Seattle's roads, bridges, and sidewalks. No controversy there.
What I find most interesting in this exchange is McGinn's eagerness to parry. It's an aggressive response that could make for an interesting (and possibly even informative) mayoral campaign.