Over the weekend, Danny Westneat asked a great question: Will Seattle voters tally up the price for all the big progressive projects currently in the works and get spooked?
It's going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the city's parks, launch universal preschool, increase Metro funding, and implement a higher minimum wage. All of these items are on the agenda this year, and a case can easily be made that all of these improvements will essentially pay for themselves through the social good they'll produce and the expensive problems they'll prevent.
Will that case be persuasive if it's being made for four expensive items in the same year? We're about to find out.
But one part of Westneat's column doesn't go far enough toward pinpointing the cause of Seattle's potential spending spree. Focusing on the possible cost to the city's residents, and on the limits of Councilmember Kshama Sawant's powers, Westneat asks:
Will you pay? There is no way, locally, to “tax the superrich,” as new Councilmember Kshama Sawant nevertheless keeps recommending. It’s on us... Will middle-class Seattleites agree to foot the bills for these pricey policy visions?
But, he doesn't name the obstacle: Olympia.
Olympia is the reason we can't ask the rich in this rich city to pay their fair share. Olympia is the reason Seattle voters are about to be asked to help raise $130 million annually to keep Metro working. Olympia is the reason Seattle is talking about funding universal preschool on its own at a cost of $30 to $70 million a year.
In other words, the dysfunction in Olympia has effectively become a huge tax on middle-class Seattleites. (And, really, on Seattleites all over the economic map.)
If we want to do anything that makes sense in the long term, we have to pay for it ourselves. If we'd like to make a change to our embarrassingly regressive tax system to help pay for all these worthwhile improvements, too bad, we can't.
Meanwhile, our city is full of people hurt disproportionately by this same regressive tax system, a tax system that not only adds to the pressure to raise wages in Seattle but also sucks an unfair amount of money out of the pockets of our city's low-wage earners and sends it off to conservative counties that take more than they give in terms of tax revenues. Meanwhile, those counties keep on electing legislators who are happy to see the citizens of Seattle suffer.
So, if Seattle progressives—whether they be middle-class or any other class—find themselves feeling like they shouldn't be holding such a large bill for all the important programs that need funding this year in this city, then their frustrations need to be pointed in the right direction: Olympia.
Solve the problem in Olympia, and it gets a lot less expensive to offer the problems of Seattle a progressive fix.