As we move closer to what will be one of the most difficult state legislative sessions in memory, we are once again treated to a public display of just how irrelevant Seattle has become in Olympia. In a clash over dueling legislative agendas steeped in symbolism and not much else, Mayor McGinn and the City Council are throwing sand at each other while the grown-ups are trying to figure out a way to deal with a state budget deficit of at least $5.7 billion for the biennium – about 18 percent of the state's operating budget (the transportation and capital budgets are separate).
The mayor's legislative proposal is heavy on making statements against the tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct – cost overruns, cost overruns, etc. Council President Richard Conlin is wisely worried about confronting legislative leaders on the tunnel project, which is a settled issue in Olympia.
McGinn also wants a statewide ban on assault weapons. I agree with him that they should be banned. But will the legislature even consider this? No.
But in McGinn’s world it really doesn't matter if anything gets done. It's about putting ideological points on the board. This is why he likes to be the only 'no' vote at the Puget Sound Regional Council and says that the governor and legislature cannot be trusted. He knows he can't accomplish anything in the state legislature and doesn't really mind at all.
And why is this, given that the big challenges that face our region are all – well – regional? These are issues about economic development, homelessness, transportation, energy and water, trade, and public safety. Individual cities cannot face these challenges alone. We need to work together and with the legislature, and, yes, compromise once in a while for the greater good.
Unfortunately, McGinn's agenda is based on a go-it-alone strategy. The homeless encampment proposed for the SODO area is but one example. Is this part of the larger regional Ten Year Plan strategy? Given that Seattle already supplies over 90 percent of shelter beds in King County, is it fair that Seattle taxpayers continue to shoulder this responsibility with little help from Bellevue or other King County cities? Has McGinn worked with other elected leaders within the Ten Year Plan strategy to fix this? It looks like we'll just go it alone, thank you very much.
McGinn's administration will continue to focus on things the city can do independently of the county and state, and frankly, independently of the city council. This means the big regional challenges must be worked through other channels — with the council taking the lead for the city.
And the strange thing of it is, the mayor doesn't seem to care. But why should he? This will free him up to use the office of the mayor for what he really wants it to be – a soapbox.
And he’s not wrong that the office is a great soapbox. But there are many soapboxes and only one mayor of Seattle. The city and region would be better served if he would step down once in a while and work with other leaders to craft solutions that serve us all as a region. Then, maybe we could even get started on that assault weapons ban for real.