1. When Mayor Ed Murray announced his proposal to open four new sanctioned homeless encampments last week—with removal protocols from unsanctioned encampments TBA (coming today, by the way)—three council members, human services chair Sally Bagshaw along with Tim Burgess and Debora Juarez, were standing with him.
Council support is obviously a big deal for any mayoral initiative, but in this instance it seemed more significant because the council had been taking up the encampment matter on its own. And they seemed to be leaning in a direction the mayor opposed that made it more difficult for the city to sweep homeless encampments.
The council approach, best articulated by District Six council member Mike O’Brien, essentially boiled down to this: With 3,000 homeless people living on the streets every night in Seattle, the city simply doesn’t have enough leeway to declare too many places—all parks land, for example—off limits.
The mayor has said he will not accept homeless camping on any parks land.
It looks like Murray has one more council member in his corner: District Four Council member Rob Johnson.
Johnson has been in O’Brien’s camp, most notably shooting down council member Tim Burgess (who’d been the mayor’s initial and only public ally) by calling b.s. on the misinformation that characterized the public’s animosity toward the council’s approach. For example, most emails coming into the council scolded the council for a plan that purportedly allowed homeless encampments on school grounds and play fields. That characterization was ripe for a Donald Trump fact check.
However, in an email to constituents yesterday, Johnson, who had co-sponsored O’Brien’s bill, says: “I am shifting my focus away from CB 118794 [O’Brien’s “ACLU bill”] and towards productive changes to the rule making protocols that will come from the executive.”
Johnson’s email seems to represent a shift away from O’Brien’s ACLU focus on guaranteeing the civil rights of homeless people and toward more of a clean up approach, highlighting priorities such as “addressing the current accumulation of waste and dangerous litter [and] increasing clarity on where people can and can’t be.”
O’Brien says the fundamental debate between the mayor and himself is likely to be over what constitutes a legitimate offer of shelter to people camping outside before forcing them to move (all sides in the debate agree that part of the protocol for removal must include a prerequisite offer of shelter.)
Johnson flagged that point as well:
“I am heartened to know that the Mayor and I are both fundamentally committed to not removing folks until we have an alternative place to offer them – but what that offer looks like is something I think we need to refine. If that offer is a space in a sanctioned encampment, then we must do a better job at raising the rate at which people exit those sanctioned encampments into housing. And if that offer is for emergency shelter, we must reduce the barriers to those shelters so that people don’t continue to choose sleeping on the street.”
O’Brien hasn’t outlined any guidelines for defining a legitimate offer, but when he flagged that larger point for me, citing it as a potential point of contention between he and the mayor and human services chair Bagshaw, I asked Bagshaw for her take on this key point. She said, a bit obliquely:
“Mike and I are working on same issue of getting people inside and secure. I am pushing for scope schedule budget from mayor's office fast.” And referring to the mayor’s pledge last week to double outreach work, she said, “I am heartened that 24-hour shelter or hundreds more spaces with lockers and right of return will receive more funding.”
2. Seattle Met and PubliCola won’t be doing election endorsements this time, but I hope you listen to the discussion I participated in on KUOW’s Week in Review about I-732, the carbon tax. (Go the 9:20 mark.)
While a tax on carbon has been a longstanding goal of progressives, this version misses the point. Rather than using the revenue, as I-732 would do, as on offset on sales taxes, the idea of a carbon tax should be to raise costs on polluters and use the money to support a shift to a green economy. By way of analogy, raising prices on parking doesn’t get people out of their cars if you don’t simultaneously do things such as improve transit service.
Any plan to tackle climate change, in other words, needs to take a comprehensive approach to the system it’s trying to reform.
Increasing costs on carbon through a tax will simply allow polluters to pass the cost on to people who drive—and for poor people, that leaves them stuck; gas is not an “elastic” commodity unless people have other options.
An actual cap and trade system like Governor Jay Inslee proposed actually sticks polluters with the costs because by literally and iteratively capping carbon production—forcing companies that pollute to trade carbon back and forth like the hot potato that it is—big oil ends up eating the cost. And, if the money is earmarked appropriately, policy makers can fund solutions. Certainly, taxing carbon could incentivize the free market to invest in green technology. But with government resources in the game, the public can set measurable and required results.
It’s also short sighted for green progressives to sign off on spending carbon tax revenues on a sales tax reduction. In a state budgeting system that is increasingly forced to justify taxes with a logical nexus between the tax and the line item (spending cigarette taxes on health care , for example), greens shouldn’t squander something as front and center as carbon pollution taxes on lowering sales taxes, when programs to fight climate change are going to become increasingly important in the future. The relationship between carbon pollution and funding more mass transit, for example, is clear cut. (As for sales taxes, progressives shouldn’t cede the tax reform issue by giving up on a top agenda item such as green upgrades.)
At a larger level, without passing the benefits on to the public, and specifically, to poor people who are hit hardest by the both climate change itself and some band aid tax that pretends to deal with it, I-732 will simply codify the inequity that’s already embedded in our fossil fuel economy.