Joni Balter, a member of the Seattle Times editorial board, ran a piece yesterday charging Mayor Mike McGinn with gross hypocrisy. She argues, in short, that McGinn has set a double standard in billing taxpayers for projects that suit his political agenda, and then, supposedly, arguing against more taxes when it doesn't serve him. "A tax protector one day becomes a big spender the next," cries Balter. Let's take a look at the logic here.
One one hand, Balter uses as the core example, McGinn is fighting to avoid making the city pay for cost overruns on the deep-bore tunnel under downtown. But, Balter says again and again, he supported votes for more light rail and then, as co-chair of a park-levy campaign in 2008, McGinn stuck taxpayers with the bill to maintain new parks we couldn't afford.
"What did he expect?" she says. "If you acquire more land, it becomes more expensive to maintain."
But two black holes suck the logic out of Balter's "argument." She's got it backwards when she says that McGinn is pushing expenses on taxpayers. Taxpayers signed up for the cost of parks and light rail (that the Seattle Times opposed). And McGinn says that if residents want more light rail, the taxpayers would have to vote on that, too. But the tunnel tab is being pushed on taxpayers who didn't sign up for it. In fact, the one time when the public had a say in a tunnel, albeit a different sort of tunnel, they rejected it. McGinn—like or dislike his politics or strategy—is trying to protect taxpayers from something they didn't commit to. It's not the same thing and nobody should be duped by this comparison.
Second: Balter is wrong about the cost of maintaining new parks. She doesn't cite sources for costs of parks maintenance, except to say, "How many cops and library hours could we buy with maintenance and operating funds dedicated to new parks—an estimated $750,000 in 2011 and $1.8 million by 2015. A cop costs $100,000 a year and a one-week library closure saves about $650,000."
To accept this canard that McGinn is costing us cops and libraries, we're supposed to believe that maintaining the new parks—built with money from 2008 levy that was passed by the city council and approved by 59 percent of voters—will cost "$750,000 in 2011."
But that number isn't real.
Of the 53 new projects voters approved in the 2008 levy, nine have been constructed, says Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Dewey Potter. Maintenance costs for the 2011 budget range from $3,000 to $41,000 each (with maintenance costs unaccounted for on one of the projects). The total cost is not the $750,000 that Balter states (who knows where her figure comes from?). It's $146,802, says Potter. With the one unaccounted cost, probably closer to $160,000 in next year's budget (which is facing a $56 million shortfall).
Beth Goldberg, acting director of the city's Department of Finance, says, "Parks has faced reductions from general-fund challenges that don’t have anything to do with the 2000 or 2008 parks levies." (More on the impact that 2011 budget cuts will have on parks and other departments are here.) Goldberg adds, "Yes there have been new facilitates that have come online with the 2008 levy, but the problems with parks funding actually goes much deeper than the levy." Indeed, the park maintenance costs are small enough to be irrelevant in the discussion about our budget shortfall or the costs of a $4.2 billion tunnel.
But Balter concludes: "McGinn would have a lot more credibility about tunnel overruns if he struck a different tone on other spending, such as the parks levy and his own advocacy of what sounds like nonstop spending on light rail."
Uh, Joni, your editorials—like the one accusing city council member Bruce Harrell of voting against a bill because he doesn't understand the concerns of women (!?!?)—would have a lot more credibility if they were grounded in facts, didn't make incongruous comparisons, weren't flat-out wrong, and didn't reek of sour grapes from losing elections over parks, light-rail, and city hall.