Midday Scan: Pacific garbage heap hits home, the capital gains tax silver bullet, Snohomish misspending

Just when you thought Snohomish County politics couldn't get any worse . . . they did. Can a capital gains tax save Washington? The West Coast braces for 2,000 miles of tsunami debris.

Crosscut archive image.

Plastic debris washed ashore on a San Francisco beach.

Just when you thought Snohomish County politics couldn't get any worse . . . they did. Can a capital gains tax save Washington? The West Coast braces for 2,000 miles of tsunami debris.

Snohomish County is not Turkmenistan. For one thing, the politics in Turkmenistan aren't quite so brutal. The bitter, please-end-it-now-or-I-will-shoot-this-dog campaign between Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and his Republican challenger, Rep. Mike Hope, hit another slick of black ice as the Washington State Patrol announced it was investigating the county executive for possible misuse of public money. As Noah Haglund, Jerry Cornfield, and Scott North of the Everett Herald first reported, "The investigation focuses on Reardon's spending on out-of-town trips, and the questions were brought to county prosecutors by a member of Reardon's own political party."   

The paper quotes Democratic political consultant Christian Sinderman: "For both campaigns, this is the capstone of a very ugly race. It doesn't make anybody look good." The campaign is beginning to feel like the final half-hour of a Dolph Lundgren movie, acting and all. Moreover, the timing of the state patrol investigation couldn't be worse. As the Herald reports, "Reardon on Thursday denied any wrongdoing. The Democrat, looking confident, questioned the timing of the allegations becoming public just days before Tuesday's election. He accused the campaign and supporters of his Republican opponent, state Rep. Mike Hope, who is trying to keep Reardon from winning a third term." One political outcome of the collective muck could be undervoting, a leave-it-blank reflex of campaign-bedraggled voters that might bolster Hope's prospects.

Whatever Tuesday's outcome, both candidates should pledge to sit in a room after the election and watch all 895 episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Or else.

The appeal of a capital gains tax is that so few of us 99-percenters have capital gains to tax. As KPLU's Austin Jenkins reports, the idea may be gaining traction as one revenue option to fill Olympia's budget hole. Jenkins interviews Andy Nicholas with the Washington Budget and Policy Center. "Ours is a narrow tax on high-end investment activities. We think this is the right approach that would set us on a path toward a more sustainable budget process," Nicholas says. Still, the brainstorm may be a little too real for some. "Nicholas proposes to exempt the first ten-thousand dollars per couple in gains from stock, bond and vacation home sales," Jenkins writes. "Critics counter that’s still a low threshold that over time would hit more than just the top three percent."  

A boost in the sales tax is inherently regressive. Ending exemptions for big corporations like Boeing may be DOA after opponents peg it as a jobs' killer. Could a capital gains tax be the only tenable revenue option?  

Be sure to wish the University of Washington a happy 150th birthday today (if you haven't already received the prompt on Facebook). The Seattle Times' Katherine Long provides an excellent capsule history of the UW. "On this day 150 years ago, a 22-year-old college graduate named Asa Shinn Mercer began teaching the first classes at the grandly named Territorial University of Washington," Long writes. "The school was housed in the most elegant building in the pioneer settlement town — a two-story wooden building with a front portico, graced with four cedar Ionic columns and capped with a belfry."

Some interesting facts: The population of white settlers was only 250 in 1861, and the first graduate was a woman, Clara McCarty. Long underlines the UW's success, minus any higher-ed-funding editorializing. "It receives more federal research funding than any other public university in the nation, and it is routinely ranked among the top public research universities in the country — in some surveys, it's in the top-25 list in the world." Of course the world-class-university talk will be tamped down at the UW's 160th birthday if state lawmakers continue to starve and batter higher ed.        

There's a massive debris field headed our way! (the Aztec end-time calendar was off by just a year it seems). "The 2,000-mile-long debris field from the March tsunami in Japan is expected to reach beaches in Hawaii next winter and hit Washington state’s coast starting in late 2013," the Seattle Times' Kyung M. Song writes. "Yet U.S. authorities can’t say yet how much of the massive flotsam will sink as it swirls through the North Pacific gyre and how much will wash ashore. They are pretty certain it won’t be radioactive — requiring special disposal — but don’t know for sure. Sen. Maria Cantwell says the United States better prepare for whatever crosses the Pacific Ocean."

Preparation will require coordination between NOAA, the EPA, and other federal agencies (Cantwell is introducing a provision to the aptly titled, "Trash Free Seas Act of 2011"). One naive question: What can we do other than just scoop it up?  

Lastly, the Willamette Week has a good feature on state Attorney General John Kroger's promise to make environmental prosecutions his top priority. The good news is Kroger has kept his promise. The bad news? The bad guys are all small-time offenders. "When he ran for office, Attorney General John Kroger said the state’s prosecution of polluters was inadequate and he would put the worst ones behind bars. Three years later, one has done time: a landscaper who dumped 60 truckloads of dirt, barrels and plastic pipes on his foreclosed property. He did two days in the Marion County jail."  

Link Summary

Everett Herald, "State Patrol investigating county executive"

KPLU, "Seattle think tank floats state capital gains tax"

Seattle Times, "UW began 150 years ago in audacious manner"

Tacoma News Tribune, "Japan's tsunami debris headed for Washington, likely to hit in late '13" 

Willamette Week, "The would-be Toxic Avenger" 


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson