A coalition of progressive groups—Transportation Choices Coalition, OneAmerica Votes, the King County Labor Council, and Fuse Washington—held a press conference at TCC’s Pioneer Square offices yesterday to “bring attention to the injustice that one wealthy North Aurora property owner is standing in the way of transportation progress in our rapidly growing city...and trying to buy the election," as TCC deputy director and co-chair of this year’s transportation levy campaign Shefali Ranganathan put it.
That property owner is Faye Garneau, who, “if you follow the money” is a longtime opponent of transportation measures, Ranganathan added (and a supporter of Tim Eyman and Republicans. Garneau was also a big contributor, around $50,000, to the 2013 district elections measure.)
In addition to Garneau's stunning $325,000 contribution to defeat this November’s transportation levy, the 80-something Garneau recently contributed $10,000 to the anti-Metro funding campaign last April. "[The levy] is funded by a property tax on properties like Garneau's," Ranganathan said. "The bottom line: Faye Garneau doesn’t want to pay her fair share of taxes."
Garneau’s big contribution to defeat the levy represents 96 percent of the anti-levy campaign’s money and almost matches the total amount raised from the 180 donors contributing to the pro-levy campaign.
“Let’s Move Seattle” (as the pro-levy side calls itself) has raised $327,000. Its top donors are Amazon ($25,000), Vulcan ($20,000), and the Cascade Bicycle Club ($15,000.) Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly has also contributed $1,000 and council members Tim Burgess and Mike O’Brien have contributed, $500 and $100 respectively. (And as the Seattle Times pointed out, construction firms that stand to benefit from the levy, such as Parsons Brinckerhoff, are big donors too.)
The proposed tax, about $270 on the owner of the median $450,000 house, would expand RapidRide bus service with seven new routes, build 250 new blocks of sidewalks, and fund Safe Routes to Schools projects at every school in Seattle. It would also put $15 million into the pedestrian bridge at the planned light rail stop at Northgate and $10 million toward the $40 million Graham Street station in Southeast Seattle as part of Sound Transit 3. (The Northgate bridge was not included in the list of federal TIGER fund recipients announced this week, in part because it lacks the kind of stable tax support the levy would provide.)
OneAmerica advocacy manager Eric González Alfaro specifically called out the Graham Street station as a direct response to Garneau’s complaint that the levy was making Seattle less affordable. González Alfaro says the levy would have the exact opposite effect, explaining that, “Low income communities, communities of color, and immigrant and refugee communities are disproportionately dependent on public transit. Increased investments in transportation are about increasing access to opportunity for the communities who need it most. Having the Graham Street Station as part of the levy...will allow residents... to get to jobs, to school or other activities more easily."
Garneau’s campaign has hauled out scary numbers about burdensome property tax increases, most of them misleading, though. Her campaign's TV ad warns of a 155 percent rate increase in taxes, Nope. There will be a 155 percent increase in revenue for transportation projects (nice), but, compared to the city's expiring transportation levy, the tax rate increase goes from 36 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to 62 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value or from $130 a year to $275 a year, an additional $12 a month. That's an increase in the transportation levy portion of your overall property tax bill, but it's nowhere near a 155 percent jump.
Garneau's mailer also slyly (and derisively) combines last year’s voter-approved parks funding measure with the proposed transportation levy to flag a 36 percent property tax bill hike. Actually, the transportation levy itself will only increase the property tax bill in Garneau's example by under 10 percent. And keep in mind: Her mailer uses the projected tax bill on a $713,000 house as opposed to the median of $450,000. She also tries to rattle renters by ignoring how markets work, implying that property tax increases will be passed on dollar for dollar.
I have a call in to Garneau; the Seattle Times profiled her earlier this week (when her contribution stood at just $150,00); she outlines her concerns about the levy in the Times article. She told them she's not concerned with the property tax increase because she says she'll just pass it on to renters.
Not only are Garneau's numbers shifty, but her larger point that taxes for transit will make Seattle unaffordable, especially for working class people like renters, ignores the exponential savings that come from transit upgrades. This was González Alfaro's point when he said "Faye Garneau may not care about kids in our city having safe routes to school, but we believe the voters of Seattle do."
Transportation spending—your car—represents 25 percent of household budgets in car-dependent homes. An eye opening 2015 study from New York City's Citizens Budget Commission found that cities with infamously high housing costs like New York City, San Francisco, and D.C., were actually much more affordable to live in than supposedly cheaper Sun Belt cities when you factor in transportation costs.
With shout outs to cities that excel at public transportation, the report found:
Because low transportation costs help balance the relatively higher price of housing in New York City, it ranks ninth lowest among the 22 cities in combined housing and transportation costs. New York is the third most affordable city for a typical household, behind Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.