News Roundup: Unconstitutional

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This is an open thread.

Comments

  1. Dave F says

    The $16 million BNSF is using for mudslide control was provided by the federal government. Sound Transit paid BNSF hundreds of millions for the right to run Sounder trains, 365-days a year, on BNSF’s track. I think ST should take a close look at its contracts to see if there’s any basis for a breach of contract suit against BNSF. Hopefully ST could use that to recover a few million dollars it’s paying to BNSF, which it could re-invest back into the corridor for mudslide control or any other worthwhile project.

    • Nathanael says

      Unfortunately, there are almost certainly “force majuere” and “act of god” clauses in the contracts; there usually are. ST could perhaps sue over the overly-long “blockade” period after a mudslide, but not over the mudslide-induced closures per se.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      Here’s a non-artist’s conception of one for Brooklyn Station. I submitted a public comment during the station design, though I have no illusions that anyone took it seriously. But it would save a minute or two per trip, would be cheap, and damnit it’s fun.

      • Andrew Smith says

        It’s a really good idea. I guess the fear is that someone could get hurt.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I’m sure that’s the fear. But it’s not as if Seattle doesn’t already have dozens of the things, and encourage our fragile children to use them.

  2. Benjamin C says

    They’re singling out ST locomotives for something that all diesel locomotives do in cold weather. When I lived in Denver and rode the RTD light rail by the rail yards, the several dozen UP locomotives sitting in the yard were always running in the winter time.

    • Orv says

      Yup. It used to be common practice in most weather, actually. It was said that you knew a railroad was losing business and in trouble when they started shutting down locomotives.

    • Orv says

      Also, antifreeze or no, it’s quite a project to start a big diesel in cold weather. Diesels rely on compression to generate the heat to ignite the fuel; the colder it gets, the harder that is. They also need to spin over above a certain minimum speed to start, and a cold engine with thick oil is harder to get up to speed.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        I wonder why they don’t put hotplugs in there, like they do now for diesel cars these days.

      • Brian Bundridge says

        It has been tried but didn’t work successfully. When I have started our diesel engine at the railroad, when it is cold, we always drain the engine completely and refill it when it is needed again. Very time consuming process.

        Cranking the engine with cold oil is a pain though and can take quite some time.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3lzdaC8yQ4

      • Nathanael says

        Modern diesel locomotives can be plugged into electric power to heat the fuel and oil to keep it liquid.

        They can also, of course, be stored indoors in a heated carbarn.

        I believe that ST does not have the facilities installed to do either. It’s the sort of thing you can get federal grants for — it’s “emissions reduction”.

  3. Brent says

    It seems incredibly wasteful to build apartments only four stories tall next to train stations. And then they can’t figure out what to do on the first story, since nobody wants to live on the first story… (banging my head on the desk at the obvious stupidity)

    I am quite saddened to see these projects be the culmination of this process. The paucity of new housing units will mean I’ll never be able to afford to live there. Thanks, NIMBYs.

      • Alex Francis Burchard says

        Because that is so close to easy transit… it takes an hour to get to Seattle, and 1.5 to Tacoma… (Used to live on 94th ave.)

      • asdf says

        There are a lot of suburb->suburb trips that are very poorly served by transit.

        One of my favorite is Redmond->Bothell. It’s about a 45 minute bike ride down the Samammish River Trail, but there is not a single transit option that will get you there in under an hour and a half any time of day, even during the peak!

      • says

        “That’s why I live in Kent.”

        Sadly, that might be why any non-farmer lives in Kent.

        Any self-proclaimed environmentalist who attempts to block height increases should read this comment and the one it replies to.

    • says

      It’s not going to be four stories. It’s six.

      They designed a four-story option in case the 65′ rezone didn’t go through, but it did, so the building is six stories.

  4. Mike Orr says

    I started thinking about doing a walking tour in east-central Washington. I.e., walking around the towns and taking transit between them. Initially I was thinking of Yakima, the Tri-Cities, and/or Walla Walla, but I’m also considering Spokane, Pullman, Ellensburg, Twisp (where I know somebody), etc. I’ve visited Spokane a few times but not much of the others. My question is, does anybody have places they’d particularly recommend?

    • Bernie says

      If you make it to the Spokane area I recommend the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. Gives a good accounting of how Spokane Valley became it’s own city back to when the main reason to go there was to a lake resort served only by rail. Lot’s of old kitschy stuff too which is why I love these little hole in the wall places.

    • Tim Willis says

      Bring you bike and see if you can’t work in the Iron Horse trail. It’s great fun and lots of railroad stuff there.

    • asdf says

      I like the idea, but getting out there is going to be tricky. There is a bus available that goes from Seattle to Ellensburg and Yakima. However the fares are $70 per person round trip to Ellensburg or $85 per person round trip to Yakima. And, both ways, if you’ll have to take a time-consuming detour to Sea-Tac to boot.

      I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world to carpool for the long-distance part of the trip and ride transit for the shorter distance, local-transit parts. But the idea does sound kind of funny.

      What we really need is some kind of bare-bones public transit service along the I-90 corridor. Perhaps Issaquah->North Bend->Snoqualmie Pass->Easton->Cle Elem->Ellensburg, with a connection to the 554 required to access it from Seattle.

      • Nathanael says

        “What we really need is some kind of bare-bones public transit service along the I-90 corridor…”

        A.k.a. the Northern Pacific Railway corridor, where the original deal was — as with so many other government agreements to run railroads — that the railroad was supposed to provide bare-bones local intercity service to the cities along the way?

        Sometimes it feels like we’re reinventing the political arguments of the 19th century.

    • Mike Orr says

      I know the Greyhound/Trailways fare is high. When I took Greyhound to Walla Walla (it doesn’t go there anymore) it was $80 something, which is close to or higher than Spokane. I understood why after I rode the bus: only three people were on it south of Yakima. My plan was basically to take Greyhound to Pasco, spend a night or two there, and take local buses to Yakima and Ellensburg if possible, maybe spending another night in Yakima. There was somebody on STB who said he can take Ben Franklin Transit at least part of this way.

      If I have to do it all on Greyhound, I don’t want to pay several high segment fares, so I would just go to one city and spend some time there.

      What’s available at Sea-Tac that’s not available downtown? Just airport shuttles and planes?

  5. Bernie says

    Looking through the KC Metro Annual report (2010, will there ever be another?) I stumbled across this little tidbit:

    Overall use of paratransit services was up 10.7
    percent, with a large gain in Access ridership
    (more than 100,000 boardings) as a result of riders
    shifting to Access after the state Department
    of Social and Health Services eliminated services
    through transportation brokers for adult daily
    health programs.

    So in effect DSHS fixed their spending problem by transferring the cost to the public transit budget.

      • Bernie says

        Same reason they provide assistance in the form of cash, food stamps, and child care from general funds. Public transit is limited in it’s public support of operational expenses to a percentage of sales tax. It shouldn’t have to cover for an agency the who’s mission is helping those needing special assistance. DSHS doesn’t need to provide transit but they should cover the cost. Why should public transit provide private cabulance service?

      • Mike Orr says

        Oh, if it’s just the bureaucratic channel for providing disability mobility out of general funds, then I’m for it. Then the thing to do would be for it to pay for all of Access.

      • Bernie says

        Exactly. Access has little to do with what it was conceived as; access to the transit system. It’s in large part transit funds being doled out to private service providers who have no incentive to manage cost but every incentive to spend every dime allotted to them. That said, I think most of the providers are worth charitable organizations but they’re not providing public transit.

      • T.K. says

        At least in King and Pierce counties, most of the paratransit service is contracted out to Veolia or First Group, both multinational corporations based in Europe. Charities, my foot!

      • Bernie says

        Good point. Now that you mention it I do remember an article about Veolia getting a huge chunk of King Co. Access service. I don’t know how PT runs SHUTTLE but I did read that it is 20% of their entire operating budget.

    • Nathanael says

      Bleagh. Single-payer health care like Canada (or a National Health Service like the UK) would fix SO MANY of our problems. Including the budget problems for Missouri DSHS.

  6. says

    Re: “Supreme Court rejects requirement for a two-thirds vote to raise taxes as unconstitutional. Since transit projects usually have public votes, the main transportation impact will probably be for it to be easier to build highways.”

    I hope in the future, in this age of austerity, that transit advocates make the argument that one can provide more capacity on currently existing roads with buses instead of studies ($$$), eminent domain (serious $$$) and actual construction costs of more lanes. I’m sure the fiscal conservatives among us transit users of all political parties agree buses are cheaper than more lanes :-)!

    • John Bailo says

      Are they ever going to rule the limitation on property tax increases unconstitutional?

      They don’t seem to care about fighting it…when a modest rise in property tax could easily fund all the shortfalls in education and transit, and even let us reduce our regressive sales taxes and fees and forestall an egregious income tax.

      • says

        John, there’s a low threshold of pain on the property tax. Considering that many are unwilling to (but should) jack up the rent to cover property tax increases, it creates an unfair situation for those that own property to be outvoted by renters.

        That’s why in a nutshell your plan is going nowhere fast. Just saw those arguments on Whidbey Island over the recent school levy.

      • John Bailo says

        It’s only unfair if you don’t consider that those with greater assets receive greater benefits from Government, and hence should pay market prices for the protections they receive.

      • AndrewN says

        Joe, landlords in King County don’t seem to have an issue with raising rents, regardless of property tax increases.

      • Nathanael says

        Mike: the Georgist land value tax is supposed to tax only the “locational” value of the land, not the improvements (value of the building etc.)

        The problem with it is that in practice it’s very hard to separate out the locational value from the value of the improvements.

    • Jim Cusick says

      From TOLLROADSnews back in May 2010.

      an excerpt

      “Let’s start with honesty,” said the [FTA chief, Peter Rogoff]. “Supporters of public transit must be willing to share some simple truths that folks don’t want to hear. One is this – paint is cheap, rails systems are extremely expensive. Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail. But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a ‘special’ bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet.”

      Once you’ve got special buses, it turns out, Rogoff said, that busways are cheap.

      “Take that paint can and paint a designated bus lane on the street system. Throw in signal preemption, and you can move a lot of people at very little cost compared to rail.”

      • Eric H says

        Ah, the crybaby rail riders argument. Some people think they’re just too good for buses, but if you paint the bus red and give it a jazzy name, commuters will beat a path to your park-n-ride. And it won’t cost more than a few buckets of paint!

        There are a number of flaws to this line of reasoning.

        One is that when a region is considering infrastructure investments of multiple billions over multiple decades, it seems rather odd to be told that a ride on rail transit is something we can’t just afford right now. WSDOT didn’t tell the I-90 drivers that they should just be happy with getting dumped onto Rainier Ave.

        Another is that the scalability of bus service and BRT has its limits. Yes, there are a lot of things that can make a bus go faster. TSP is a fine example of something that yields modest benefit for modest cost. But a dedicated right of way is the only way you can make a vehicle go really fast, and those cost money. So do stations and facilities, and even those fancy buses.

        You can build a BRT system that can go almost as fast as a rail system–but by the time you’ve thrown in exclusive rights of way, grade separation, stations, etc., you’ve pretty much spent what you would spend on a rail system. In a town that spent quite a lot of money to put a bus-dedicated subway under its downtown, this should be fairly obvious.

        Lastly, there’s the problem of scale. Put a transit network on your freeways and you’re stuck trying to run transit with the scale of a highway network. This is rather like trying to link Everett, Georgetown and SeaTac with scheduled jet service. It leverages existing investment, but doesn’t really address the last-five-or-ten-miles problem.

      • says

        Oh, and then there’s the fact that diehard rail riders aren’t quite so willing to be enticed onto a “special” bus as Rogoff thought, especially if car drivers call for throwing out the can of paint again in the other direction.

        We’re trying it the Rogoff way with Swift. It’s far better than RapidRide, but no one would ever mistake it for rail.

      • Nathanael says

        (1) Rogoff is wrong. [ad hom]

        There have been actual studies about this. “Special” buses don’t attract significantly more riders. Actual rail service does. It is NOT possible to attract rail riders to buses just by painting the buses a different color.

        (2) Sure, busways are cheap, IF YOU CAN TAKE AWAY LANES FROM CARS. Good luck with that, politically speaking. I believe it has never been done in the United States — ever. (Chicago is currently trying.)

        Instead, we get insane busway plans which involve pouring huge amounts of concrete to “build” bus lanes or HOV lanes, or in Seattle’s case a bus tunnel. These cost far more than building rail and are less effective.

      • Nathanael says

        “WSDOT didn’t tell the I-90 drivers that they should just be happy with getting dumped onto Rainier Ave. ”

        And yet, amusingly, that’s basically what expressways do in Europe, and it works great!

        (The through traffic should be taking the bypass, I-405. They have city bypasses in Europe.)

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    • John Bailo says

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      http://www.microcab.co.uk/h2ev.html

  8. Bernie says

    while Sounder ridership increased, the amount of CO2 per rider decreased slightly from 10.5 pounds per boarding to 9.6 pounds.

    This got me wondering what the carbon footprint of North Sounder is compared to “the much lower-cost ST Express bus routes [that] run overloaded with passengers standing in the aisles.” Pounds per boarding for whole system doesn’t tell us much. But I found a good link to Public Transportation’s Role in Responding to Climate Change. Commuter rail on average in the US produces .35 pounds of CO2 per passenger mile. A bus at capacity only .16 pounds. But if the bus has to double it’s mileage deadheading it’s a wash (ST fleet average is .455). An average SOV commute is .85, average van pool .22 or about the same as a 4 person carpool.

    • Nathanael says

      This is another one of those things where load factors dominate over every other factor.

      With *full buses and full trains* the trains produce less CO2 per passenger mile.

  9. DJ says

    So, this is a thing.

    http://www.protectourviews.com

    Basically its a group attempting to stop development in SLU, or at least keep the building heights low so as not to spoil their views of the Needle. And its their right of course, but it just comes across as a big whine and the worst kind of entitled NIMNBIism.

  10. says

    Good to see Judy Clibborn come out and be honest that she represents Mercer Island over her other non-Island constituents. I’ve always suspected as much but those proposals, except possibly the first, are blatant pandering. The first won’t work either since it gives everybody the option of one toll-free bridge. Um, hello? Isn’t the problem that we don’t have enough revenue? Now, if she coupled the first option with an increased gas tax…. Hmmmm…

    Still, I’d prefer a comprehensive distance based tolling strategy with dramatically improved transit options.

    • David Seater says

      From her piece: “There is no question that tolling will disproportionately affect those of us who live on Mercer Island.”

      Personally, I wouldn’t mind paying a toll to be “disproportionately affected” by having a grade separated, high speed travel route to downtown Seattle directly from my neighborhood.

      And later: “This would protect those living on Mercer Island who have to leave every day to go to Seattle or Bellevue to work or get children to school.”

      I’m sure there are thousands of people in Seattle and Bellevue who would like to be exempt from the 520/90 tolls for similar reasons.

      • Cascadia Bryan says

        Maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t understand this, but…..

        I presume that the toll would only apply to trips to Seattle and not trips to Bellevue, correct? One or the other, but not both?

        And, despite being on an island, wouldn’t this make Mercer Islanders no more inconvenienced than any other resident East of the lake?

        Or… what am I missing here?

      • David Seater says

        The State is still deciding how and where to charge the toll on I-90. Personally I’d lean toward charging in both direction on the Seattle side (tolled to and from Seattle, free to and from Bellevue). The uproar is that many vocal people on Mercer Island feel it should be free to them no matter which direction they go. They want to be exempted from the tolls completely because… reasons.

      • David L says

        Cascadia Bryan, equal treatment with everyone else on the Eastside is not good enough for these super-privileged Mercer Islanders. For some reason known only to them, they feel very strongly that they deserve special privileges.

      • Mike Orr says

        They should put the toll at the opposite end each direction. That way Mercer Islanders will get a 50% discount every round trip, which exactly reflects how much impact they have on the bridge.

    • asdf says

      The Mercer Island argument is something like this (I am not endorsing this argument, I am merely stating it):

      1) Transit only provides enough capacity to handle a fraction of the total trips on and off the island. If anywhere close to everyone on the island converted a driving trip to transit on the same day, the system would be overloaded.

      2) Metro and ST have no money to increase service and, even if they did, the island residents would have nowhere to park their cars because Mercer Island P&R is all filled up (ignoring the fact that the few pockets of density the island has are all within walking distance of the P&R).

      3) Therefore, in the interest of transit riders everywhere else, we need to make it as easy as possible for Mercer Island residents to drive so we can free up bus space and parking space for those off-island who need it more.

      4) Therefore, Mercer Island residents must be exempt from any tolls on I-90!

      • Nathanael says

        What a silly argument that is! Link will provide enough capacity to handle all of the trips on and off the island. Perhaps, understanding that they could possibly be right about buses, a deal should be cut which provides Mercer Islanders with a break only until Link starts running and then hits them with the full costs.

  11. Stephen F says

    Can we please dump Clibborn [ad hom]? She supports a fee on everybody but the 1%. What disgusting politics. She should not be called a Democrat.

  12. Stephen F says

    Separately, it’s nice to see Eyman squashed. The Supremes’ decision was as expected, but we get to LOL endlessly at another defeat to his neo-conservative nitwittery.

  13. Bernie says

    Could electric cars reduce China’s smog?

    Despite the lofty ideal, the electric car has so far been a sputtering disappointment, accounting for only a fraction of 1% of global car sales.

    Last year, BYD sold only 1,700 electric cars in China. Isbrand Ho tells me that at that volume the car is inherently expensive, due to the economy of scale.

    More than one million new fuel-engine cars pour onto China’s roads every month

    Electric cars aren’t just expensive because of low volume. They’re expensive because the batteries they rely on are expensive. You can buy a Tesla Model S for a little over $50k but add the extended range 85kWh battery pack and you’re into six figures.

    • Nathanael says

      The Tesla Model S batteries *are* expensive, but they’re not *THAT* expensive. It’s not six figures unless you buy the silly “Performance” version, which is really just for crazy speed freaks who have more money than sense.

      I bought a Model S with the 85kWh battery pack and twin chargers (for fast charging) Model S two weeks ago. (I live in an area with no sidewalks, no transit to downtown from my home, and no viable intercity transit, and I have to make intercity and rural trips.)

      Mine had a sticker price of $85,650. This included $6750 in other options which aren’t useful for range. Even after New York sales tax, I was still under $100K.

      You can get a Model S with maximum range capabilities for a sticker price of $78,900. There’s $1170 in mandatory “delivery/destination/prep” fees, so that’s $80,070. In Washington State you don’t pay sales tax on that, so that’s the final price apart from the government fees.

      It’s expensive, but it’s certainly not “six figures”.

      • Nathanael says

        Oops. I just realized that Tesla raised the price by $5000 since I bought mine.

        So it would be $85,070. (If you pay enough taxes you get the $7500 federal tax credit against that.)

        Now you’re right that the batteries are expensive. Of that price, $20,000 is the upcharge for going from a 40kWh battery back to an 85kWh battery back, so roughly $40,000 of the price is just for batteries.

        Battery tech *does* need to improve. Luckily, I know people who have a revolutionary battery technology; we’ll probably see it on the market in 10-15 years.

  14. Mike Orr says

    “The agency is evaluating corridor alternatives to extend high capacity transit from the future light rail Angle Lake Station on S. 200th Street in SeaTac to the Federal Way Transit Center, a distance of about 7.6 miles”

    They’re already calling it Angle Lake Station.

    • lazarus says

      That is what they decided to call it — that was the decision after public input.

  15. Jim Cusick says

    @ Supreme Court rejects requirement for a two-thirds vote to raise taxes as unconstitutional. Since transit projects usually have public votes, the main transportation impact will probably be for it to be easier to build highways.

    Seriously, does that surpise anyone?

    • says

      And everyone was celebrating so much on the last open thread! Was STB inadvertently helping roadbuilders by opposing so many of Eyman’s initiatives over the years?

    • Mike Orr says

      I think Martin overstated it. The decision gives the state the ability to fix its budget problems and invest in the future. Some of this will benefit transit, some highways, and some other things.

      • Nathanael says

        Forget the impact on transportation; this is essential to fund anything at all ever. Fire trucks… police… drainage…

        Supermajority requirements to raise taxes (with only normal majority requirements to lower taxes) wrecked California. It’s good you don’t do that in WA.

  16. Andrew Smith says

    As for art, they need to get whoever did the graduating shoes and have them make a million more.

  17. Commuter says

    What’s up with all the water in the Beacon Hill Station? Are there leakage problems? I’ve never seen it this bad.

    • Brett says

      I predict eternal water problems with that station, informed by no experience or understanding of the problem but rather well-honed cynicism. The warranty will eventually run out, then the contractor will no longer pay for repairs.

      At least this will be my thinking until ST informs us to what the problem is and how it will actually get repaired.

  18. John Bailo says

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    The project expects to see the following benefits:

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    Displacing 200,000 gallons of diesel per year

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  19. Mike Orr says

    My Python conference in Santa Clara is next week. I think this part of Santa Clara was the pit of sprawl hell, the closest to Le Corbuseur I’ve seen in the US. My hotel is two miles from the convention center (the closest budget hotel on a bus line). There’s a half-hourly bus (#60) that goes to the convention center, Santa Clara Caltrain, and Valley Fair mall (like Southcenter). It’s hard to even find a supermarket or restaurant in this area so I’ll probably commute to dinner at Valley Fair if I don’t see anything better nearby. The nearest light rail station is “only” a 30 minute walk along the Montague Expressway. I might just start doing that if I want to go anywhere else. So, I guess this trip is an opportunity for a lot of walking, and maybe I’ll try that nearby Guadalupe River Trail….

    But on the bright side, Santa Clara makes Bellevue look so urban!

    • asdf says

      I know what you’re talking about, as I took a trip to Mountain View a few years ago to visit a friend. Travel from the San Jose airport involved first an airport shuttle, which was at least somewhat frequent, then the CalTrain, which, off-peak runs only hourly, then a 30 minute walk at the end.

      The whole South Bay area is pretty awful as far as transit goes, but on the bright side, if you can get yourself a bike, the area has pretty nice weather and is flat, so bike commuting could be an attractive option. Unfortunately, since you’re flying to get there, it is going to be rather expensive. Best option might be to buy a folding bike and take it on the plane with you for just the $25 checked bag fee.

    • Mike Orr says

      I’m taking the Coast Starlight to San Jose. Although Amtrak later said there was track work and rebooked me to Oakland with a shuttle bus to SJ (1 1/2 hour layouver, 1 1/2 hr bus trip). I may just take BART from Oakland and see downtown Oakland on the way. The Amtrak station is “approximately” close to the 12th St BART station, a 20 minute walk.

      The light rail has an “Airport” light rail station on a line that goes to Mountain View. It’s slower than Caltrain but more frequent. (15 min days, 30 min eve/Sunday). I’m not sure how you get from the airport to the station.

      In my part of Santa Clara, it takes 10 minutes to walk one block. The blocks must be a half mile long. And they contain only one thing: a 6-story office building surrounded by a wide frame of “open space”.

      I saw an article somewhere about retrofitting the open spaces around towers in the park and in the “lost” municipal space between sprawly roads, infilling housing and mixed-use. I assume it would be only 1-2 stories around an office building to avoid blocking views and sunlight, but even that would be an improvement in this circumstance. It would allow people to live where they work, and raise the density enough to support more transit.

      • asdf says

        As of a few years ago, there was a shuttle bus that connected San Jose airport to the light rail, just like to CalTrain. I think it ran something like every 15 minutes. However, my information is dated and there have been a lot of budget cuts since. I do not know if this bus still exists.

        Remember, this is the South Bay we’re talking about here. I once stayed at a hotel that summed up for me the area’s attitude towards transit. They have a shuttle that will happily carry guests 10 miles to and from San Francisco airport, but they refuse to transport guests for a mere 1 mile between the hotel and the nearest CalTrain station. Literally, the only transit connection to the hotel outside of rush hour was to go through the airport and wait half an hour for the hotel shuttle to show up.

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  22. Nathanael says

    Gah. The Portland union-management argument is over health insurance. Again.

    SINGLE PAYER, like in Canada, NOW. It would eliminate all this wrangling.



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