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Posts published in October 2007

A dollar too many

We're surely not alone in being a bit thrown by the sheer size of Proposition 1, headed for voter decision next month. It's enormous, but not only that: It's so enormous, and covers so massive a scope of space and time, that estimates are almost useless.

Most often you see $47 billion - that is, yes, billion with a "b" - but depending on how you count, it could amount to as little as $18 billion (that trifling amount) to $160 billion. The proposition's backers estimate $17.8 billion (or $28.5 billion if you factor inflation). Some perspective from a Seattle transit blog: "I know I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here, but we don't know inflation with an accuracy over 50 year periods! The number makes no sense because three years of no inflation could shrink the end number by 20%, and three years of massive inflation could raise it by 50%. We don't know inflation."

And last week, King County Executive Ron Sims - one of the most active public transit backers in the region - threw a bomb into the discussion with his critical guest opinion in the Seattle Times:

If approved, we will see the largest tax increase in state history. Starting in January, car-tab taxes will triple, and the sales tax will be 9.5 percent (10 percent in King County restaurants).

I look at this package with the knowledge that in 50 years, my oldest son will be 80 when it's paid off. My granddaughter will be 55. Their ability to make public investments relevant to their lives and times will be severely limited by this package. Should I be so lucky, I will use my pension until I am 110 years old to pay my share!

The benefits of this package are far from immediate. Even if on schedule, 60 percent of new light rail won't open until 2027. Light rail across Lake Washington is at least 14 years away. The Northgate extension is 11 years away.