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This Week's ThinkTank Pits Social-Justice Lefty vs. Social-Justice Lefty

By Erica C. Barnett September 14, 2011

In this week's ThinkTank, two social-justice advocates---the Seattle Displacement Coalition's John Fox and Real Change executive director Tim Harris---go head to head on the city's proposed $60 car-tab fee, which would pay for road maintenance, transit improvements, and bike and pedestrian projects.

Fox argues that the fee, which will be on the November ballot, is regressive and directs money at the wrong priorities (bike lanes and transit reliability improvements at the expense of road and bridge maintenance projects); Harris says that although a car-tab fee isn't ideal, it helps the people who need it the most: those who rely on transit to get around.

The commenters, not surprisingly, have some strong opinions about both our dueling editorials and the fee itself.

David Miller, a co-founder of the anti-car-tab group Sidewalks and Streets for Seattle, writes,
There are no dollars for new bus service. There will be no new bus routes. Only 0.89 routes per year (less than one) will see "corridor improvement." A possible expansion of the electric trolley lines is an expansion on to already-served routes.

Mr. Harris joins the members of the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) Board essentially saying, "Don't worry, the TBD will work it out." Maybe. The leading idea for rebates essentially rules out participation by many renters. They are also not considering rebating the entire $80 TBD VLF, or even the entire $60 this new tax represents.

Worst of all, the TBD budget does not account for the cost of the rebates. Something on the list of spending will have to be cut, which means Seattle voters will -- with 100% certainty -- not be getting what they were promised in this ballot measure.

To which Munchkin responds, "David, I don't understand why you are complaining about "no new bus routes," when we are fighting so hard to maintain existing service and the new $20 county fee is going straight to Metro. What we need isn't a bus on every block, we need to make the routes we have run more efficiently, reliably and regularly. There are millions in this package dedicated to improving our infrastructure as we fix it, rather than just prolonging a flawed status quo.But David, here's what confuses me so much about your argument. The council has left the option open to reprogram money in future years as needed. This would give you and other advocates the opportunity in future years to push for particular projects that you find necessary, in front of the citizen oversight committee and the council. It's obvious that the city has a pedestrian plan, new transit master plan and bike plan that identify over a billion dollars in needed infrastructure. We're losing gas tax money from the state by the minute. No one thinks this is a perfect solution and we'll be working for a long time to meet Seattle's transportation needs. Let's work together and get this done.

And Yusuf Cabdi, chair of the United African Public Affairs Committee, weighs in:

I  have a great respect for Tim Harris for the work he does for the homeless, but on this issue, I completely disagree with him. Any progressive or low income advocate has no choice but to oppose this regressive tax [for] the following reasons.Regressive: Single mom with five kids driving a 1980 Chevy, and a doctor driving 2011 Lexus with $200,000 income a year will be paying the same flat rate of $60.  I heard some so called liberals and progressives who keep on arguing "Yeah, it is regressive and it is bad.... but we should do it."  Well--- either you are progressive and oppose all regressive tax, or you are an opportunistic liberal/progressive and support anything that serves your interest.Did anyone read the resolution? It is written so poorly, intentionally to allow the council to reprogram the money to any transit project of its liking. People should know before they cast their vote how the money will be spent and what projects the money will  fund.  I am not prepare to give a blank check to the city. Accountability and transparen[cy] and good governance  is what I want to see, and not telling me how you are going to spend it before hand worries me a lot.60% of the low income car owners spend each an avarege of $400 per month to maintain their cars before the VLF ( insurance, gas, maintainance, parking,etc), some other studies even claim higher than $400; If you add this to the $60 VLF, it is about $460-- a lot of money.

Weigh in on this hot debate yourself here.
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