Midday Scan: Metro OK's 'Buy Local', Tacoma Narrows photo tolling, Alaska is melting

Seattle Metro takes its foot out of its mouth on 'Buy Local'; Tacoma Narrows Bridge gets all fancy on tolling; Alaska feels the heat of global warming.

Crosscut archive image.

A "drunken forest" in Alaska. The melting of permafrost has caused these trees to tip over.

Seattle Metro takes its foot out of its mouth on 'Buy Local'; Tacoma Narrows Bridge gets all fancy on tolling; Alaska feels the heat of global warming.

All public-sector bureaucracies, from sewer districts up to the feds, should secretly contract with a blunt, middle-aged uncle. This rumpled curmudgeon would chew over every picayune decision and determine its rank on the horse-sense meter. An outspoken uncle Floyd, for example, would have issued an expletive-strewn scream at King County Metro Transit that "Buy American" and "Shop Locally" bus ads are not only okay, but damn okay. 

"Reversing a previous ban, King County Metro Transit said Thursday it will accept bus ads urging shoppers to 'Buy American' and 'Shop Locally,'" the Seattle Times' Jim Brunner writes. "Earlier this week, the bus agency had rejected the ads, citing a policy barring ads that take political viewpoints. The ads read: 'December is Buy American Month, Shop Locally, Join Seattle's TAPamerica.org.' Leaders of the Seattle-based nonprofit were stunned when the county nixed that message as too political."

An agency's organizational culture blinds insiders, who forget about the horse-sense meter. By extension, seemingly minor decisions can make them look small-minded and easy to lampoon. At Metro Transit, the blunt uncle returned to work. Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond wrote in an email, "Upon further review, the text of the ad does not express an opinion about a public issue, as prohibited by our policy, but rather is a promotion of the sale of goods. Therefore, we will allow it to run."  

Could we agree on one thing? The state's sales tax is the most regressive way to boost revenue. Interestingly, even those who will benefit from a half-cent increase are holding up a mirror and pushing back. As the AP reports, "Washington's largest teacher's union wants state officials to look for revenue options other than a temporary sales tax." Why the fuss? Because the hoi polloi will be paying the price.

"Mary Lindquist, the president of the Washington Education Association, said Thursday a sales tax increase would place the burden on middle class families. Lindquist says teachers would consider supporting the tax if it is the only option available, but she wants lawmakers to examine tax exemptions for businesses and other ways to raise revenue." If it is the worst of all possible options, why not shoot for a modest capital-gains tax instead? Conservatives are likely correct that this will not be a "temporary" sales tax boost, just as liberals are correct that there are more equitable, far-sighted ways to generate revenue.  

This is not your Daddy's Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolling system. Nope, this is photo tolling (Luddites, no reason to read further.) "The Washington State Department of Transportation announced it will begin photo tolling on the bridge Saturday after a several-month delay, due to bringing statewide tolling under one system," the Tacoma News Tribune's Christian Hill writes. "The move gives drivers a third way to pay bridge tolls and does away with the $52 infractions if they don’t pay." Perhaps it's not that technical. "With photo tolling, they can cross without paying and receive a bill in the mail later. A camera snaps a picture of their license plate before they cross the eastbound bridge," Hill writes.

There are benefits to snaring a transponder in advance. "Drivers will pay a different photo toll depending on whether they have a Good to Go! account. Drivers who signed up for an account but didn’t put the transponder on their vehicle will pay a $3 photo toll; drivers with no account will pay $5.50." Lazy commuters (or those of us who forget that credit cards are money, not inanimate plastic) could feel a heavy, photo-price sting.

A quick reminder, cold weather notwithstanding: Global warming is happening. In this morning's Anchorage Daily News the AP reports, "Federal officials say the Arctic region has changed dramatically in the past five years — for the worse. It's melting at a near record pace, and it's darkening and absorbing too much of the sun's heat." Uh oh. Few places in the world better illustrate the effects of climate change than large swaths of Alaska and the Arctic.

In 2006's Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Kolbert documented the north's "drunken forests" (trees leaning sideways as the permafrost melts away). Alaskans get it. "The dramatic changes are from both man-made global warming and recent localized weather shifts, which were on top of the longer-term warming trend, scientists said," the AP reports.    

Lastly, the New York Times' Tim Egan reminds readers that the West's gun nuts will always fabricate a straw man to invigorate their cause (er, what cause? They have their guns.) Egan notes, "there’s no serious case that President Obama is trying to take people’s guns. Guess what grade the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Obama after one year in office? He got an 'F' for his gun stance, or lack of same. This after the N.R.A. predicted that he would be the most anti-gun president in history."   

Link Summary

Seattle Times, "Metro relents on 'Buy American' bus ads"

The Olympian"Washington teachers skeptical of sales-tax proposal" 

Tacoma News Tribune, "After delay, photo tolls will begin Saturday for Tacoma Narrows Bridge"  

Anchorage Daily News, "Arctic melt-off is rapidly accelerating, says NOAA report" 

New York Times"Gun nuts in a rut"


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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