Morning Fizz: "We Worry That Many Economic Factors Will Be Overlooked."
Caffeinated news and gossip featuring coal, Sound Transit, and taxes.
1. Fizz hears rumblings that the city of Seattle, which has traditionally had two representatives (the mayor and city council transportation committee chair) on the Sound Transit board, may be in danger of losing one of those representatives.
The 18-member board is divided into five geographical subareas, and a Shoreline representative could take over one of North King County's positions (city council member Richard Conlin, the board's city council representative, was just booted out of office).
No law requires any Seattle-specific representation on the board.
2. "As legislators representing varied communities and districts, we are concerned that the widespread impacts of proposed coal export projects will not be thoroughly or completely captured by the NEPA/SEPA environmental review process. Specifically, we worry that many economic factors – both benefits and costs – will be overlooked by the review process that is already underway, and we urge you to ensure that the entire scope of impacts from both of the proposed projects is examined before these projects are allowed to move forward."
Is coal the Betamax of the 21st century?
So says a key paragraph from a letter that a pack of Democratic state legislators signed and sent to Gov. Jay Inslee yesterday.
The letter acknowledges that local agencies have already pledged to do a broader assessment of the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal than the feds—the Department of Ecology and Whatcom County upstaged the feds by promising to look at the broader environmental impacts of shipping coal as opposed to the feds' isolated examination of the shipping route—but...
Yesterday's additional demand, spearheaded by house finance chair Rep. Reuven "Return on Investment" Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne, Ballard), hints at a much bigger question (one he and other legislators also asked recently about a proposed coal terminal in Longview): Is banking on the coal industry a smart economic investment to begin with? The letter specifically asks the state to do a cost/benefit analysis of the required investments in rail infrastructure along with an assessment of traffic impacts on other commercial traffic.
But it also asks this:
Similarly, a net economic analysis would force an examination of the role that coal exports would have on overall economic growth. As a trade-dependent state focused on steady economic development, a thorough analysis of coal export impacts is necessary to ensure that project proposals fit within current growth projections...
In short, never mind the politically correct, environmental analysis. There's a pressing hard-boiled question of capitalism here. Is coal the Betamax of the 21st century? Evidence, obtained from nervous capitalists such as Cherry Point inventors Goldman Sachs, suggests it might be.
3. In what has effectively amounted to a race against the state legislature, the city council is finishing up work on a "multi-city business license portal" (it also goes by the slightly catchier new name, "FileLocal") for businesses to pay their local B&O taxes.
The state, backed by the conservative Association of Washington Business, has proposed legislation that would consolidate all B&O tax collection at the state level (currently, cities collect the taxes individually). Seattle has estimated the legislation could cost the city as much as $43 million in the form of lost revenues from audit fees, penalties from businesses that have failed to pay their taxes, and a one percent administration fee that would go directly to the state.
The city's alternative online portal, which is almost finalized, would allow Seattle to keep collecting taxes but give businesses one place to pay their taxes in every jurisdiction where they owe them.
Council president Sally Clark says she's optimistic that the state will accept the city's alternative proposal. "I think we're going to provide them with a better product that's ready sooner without the state having to invest a bunch of its own money to build its own infrastructure," she says.
"Anybody who is doing an infrastructure update is looking at the Affordable Care Act" and trying to avoid the mistakes the Obama Administration made, she adds.