Such a fancy-schmancy logo!

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat added to the chorus of criticism of the state Department of Transportation earlier this week, questioning WSDOT's decision to spend $490,000 on a museum dedicated to the history and future of the downtown Seattle waterfront---part of the viaduct replacement project.

Decrying the expenditure as "government waste" at a time when the state is in an almost unprecedented financial crisis, Westneat writes, "Seriously, state of Washington? Why? And why now?"

Turns out there's a legitimate answer to that: The museum is a gesture to Pioneer Square to help compensate for construction that will tear the neighborhood apart for the next four years.

Look, I get that government "boondoggles" are catnip (or comment bait) for newspaper columnists. And, in fairness to Westneat, he does give WSDOT the opportunity to respond. (WSDOT secretary Paula Hammond called it "a small price to pay to mitigate" the construction impacts).

But in the context of widespread anger about the museum (KOMO Radio's Ken Schram: the Washington State Republican Party), a more measured column would have pointed out that $490,000 is a fraction of a fraction of a drop in the bucket in the context of a $4.2 billion project---one-hundredth of one percent, to be precise. If anything, Pioneer Square would be justified in asking for more.[pullquote]Spending cuts make sense in times of austerity, but not all spending cuts are equal.[/pullquote]

Editorials decrying things like free museums as "government waste" miss the point of such expenditures. Take that argument to its logical conclusion, and you wouldn't fund art at light rail stations. Or 4Culture, King County's acclaimed arts program. Or, for that matter, anything but the cheapest, most brutalist structure for any government funded building, bridge, or transit project. Take it to the logical extreme, and you get things like user fees for fire service---and that hasn't turned out so well.

Spending cuts make sense in times of austerity, but not all spending cuts are equal. Eliminate funding for things like the viaduct museum, and you're on a very short and very slippery slope toward eliminating funding for "pork"---like hiring a renowned architect to design the downtown library, or building bridge crossings that are not just functional but beautiful---that many people not only support, but take for granted.

Want to talk about a real waste of money? How about starting with the tunnel itself?