In Seattle, let the people 'chill'

Politicians have resorted to some some pretty childish arguments in defense of policies in recent days.
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Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

Politicians have resorted to some some pretty childish arguments in defense of policies in recent days.

I was delighted to see Seattle Weekly's Mark Fefer go after Mayor Greg Nickels' Sound Transit op/ed, which appeared in The Seattle Times. It basically was designed to set up straw men and knock them down, casting opponents of the new $23 billion Sound Transit ballot measure as clueless twits (despite the fact that they include the King County executive and the former head of the state Department of Transportation).

Nickels' column, "10 lame reasons to delay mass transit," put silliness in the mouths of imaginary skeptics but never went into the substance of the debate. Nickels imagines doubters to be Hovercraft-and-Kemper-Freeman-loving-Luddites-who-like-to-stand-on-the-bus-in-high-heels. You'd expect just a tad more substance from the chair of the Sound Transit board.

Then there's Richard Conlin's defense of the new grocery bag tax. After the City Council passed the fee, the City Council president told the Times: "This is a voluntary fee ... No one has to pay it. You only have to pay it if you choose not to use reusable bags." Council member Tim Burgess also touted the "voluntary" bag fee as a "market-driven" solution to environmental woes.

OK, by their definition virtually all taxes and fees are voluntary. I mean, you don't have to own a car, and no one is forcing you to earn enough to pay income tax, or buy gasoline. The sales tax on food is voluntary because you could grow your own food. Someone who brings their own bag can avoid the fee, just like someone who chooses not to visit a national park can avoid paying an entrance fee. That doesn't make the fee voluntary. Voluntary implies the legal equivalent of "suggested donation."

Then there's Nickels again — has Robert Mak started yet? If not, he is needed. If so, I hope this isn't an example of how he's earning his $160,000 salary as the city slides into massive budget cuts. He promised to improve communication with citizens! When the mayor made his surprise announcement that he was instituting a series of car-free days around town, here's how he responded to businesses that might have to shut down and citizens who might be seriously inconvenienced: "It's just for one day, just chill. Get out of the car and walk." This from a mayor who can't be bothered to bus or bike — let alone walk — to work himself.

Like the way the city is being run these days? Object to fiats, fees, boondoggles, and budget holes? Jeez, just chill, people. I mean, living in Seattle is voluntary, after all.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.