Morning Fizz

Rob Johnson Addresses Outside Money, Seattle Teachers Strike

City council candidate Rob Johnson says he didn't promise anything to lobbying groups, and Seattle teachers strike over wages, school day length.

By Josh Kelety September 9, 2015

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1. When the news broke that Rob Johnson, Transportation Choices Coalition head and the transit-wonk candidate for the city council’s District Four seat, was benefiting from over $70,000 in independent expenditures from local conservative lobbying groups, it raised questions about what prompted such significant financial support. What did he—or didn't he—tell the groups such as the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce–sponsored Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) and the Rental Housing Association (RHA) to warrant the dollars, which were spent on mailers and TV ads in support of his campaign? Outside money on that scale in a city council race doesn’t come without strings attached, right?

During PubliCola’s endorsement interview with Johnson, we asked him about all this independent expenditure money, and whether he liked or disliked all the cash (in traditional PubliCola fashion). He responded saying he liked it, framing it as a reflection of his ability to “build coalitions.” “I don’t always agree with their politics all the time, but they still endorse me as candidate despite,” he added, noting that he didn’t promise anything specific to the groups. Johnson also forked over the candidate questionnaires he had to fill out for the various groups.

The questionnaires somewhat support Johnson’s line that he hasn't made any backroom dealings. CASE's questionnaire asks pretty general questions about transit and housing, prompting the expected Johnson responses on the importance of urban density, walkability, and well-funded public transit. Nothing really to see there. On the RHA questionnaire Johnson said that while he supports rent control as one tool among a “myriad” of other solutions to the shortage of affordable housing stock, he wouldn’t support a rent control ordinance because of the state ban (Johnson did add that he would support a council resolution calling for the state to overturn the ban). Johnson also noted in his questionnaire responses that a land value tax would be a more stable source of affordable housing funding than a linkage fee, distributing the burden to homeowners as well as developers. RHA also asked Johnson whether he would support amending the city’s “just cause” eviction ordinance (which prohibits landlords from evicting month-to-month tenants with 20 days’ notice without, you guessed it, just cause) to allow for eviction of tenants who have received city citations for violating noise ordinance or land use code, to which Johnson said no. He did also note that gentrification is primarily fueled a lack of market rate housing stock in the city, showcasing his supply side economics leanings.

We’ve heard Johnson’s skeptical take on rent control before at candidates’ forums (we’ve heard less from him on tenant protections), but we hadn’t seen how his views on both subjects changed—or didn’t change—when put before big spenders such as the RHA. At least on paper questionnaires.

“I’ve always been up front with the people I work with, whether you’re on the left or the right,” Johnson told PubliCola last week.

2. Last night, after a breakdown in talks over a new contract between Seattle Public Schools district and the teachers union—the Seattle Education Association (SEA), which represents teachers and school administrators—Seattle educators declared they would go on strike today, starting at 8am, for the first time in 30 years. Today would have been the first day of school.

The biggest point of contention is teacher pay, which the union says isn’t competitive given Seattle’s high living costs (teachers and school employees—who are paid by both the state and local school districts—across Washington also haven’t received a cost of living adjustment from the state in six years), alongside a host of other issues such as school day length, minimum recess time (both sides did agree to a 30 minute minimum over the weekend), standardized testing, and a commitment by the district to addressing racial achievement gaps and disproportionate disciplining between whites and minorities in all schools. There is a $110 million discrepancy in the counteroffer SPS presented to SEA yesterday morning (SPS held their line at $62 million worth of contract asks compared to SEA’s $172 million; SEA then counteroffered later that afternoon). In addition, last night, following the negotiation breakdown, the SPS school board voted to take legal action against SEA, arguing that public employees right to strike isn’t protected by state law and thereby illegal, though there’s debate over the illegality part.

The Stranger’s Jen Graves has a solid rundown on the longstanding chronic and “literally criminal” (in the eyes of the state supreme court) underfunding of the public school system by the state legislature, conditions that have lead to the current drama playing out in Seattle, such as how the absence of state investment has forced school districts to rely on local property tax levies which puts poorer districts at a disadvantage with their smaller tax bases (the lack of state funding also results in internal Seattle resource disparities, with school PTAs in wealthier communities being able to fundraise more for the arts and after-school programs than their poorer equivalents). And meanwhile, Republicans in the state senate are framing the measures taken by the supreme court to force the legislature to get a basic education funding plan together (i.e., daily fines of $100,000 until they do so) as an overreach by the judicial branch and a state “constitutional crisis."

3. Don’t forget: There’s a public hearing tonight on the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee recommendations tonight at 5:30pm in council chambers at city hall. It should be pretty lively.

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