This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Speaking of the RTID, Josh Feit at The Stranger continues to advocate against the “Roads” piece of the “Roads and Transit” vote coming up in November. In doing so, he raises some interesting points that are worth unpacking.
Feit does make the useful distinction between current (or 2006) dollars and “year of expenditure” (“YOE”) dollars. As we’ve noted before, YOE dollars are really only worth considering when there’s some really unusual financing going on, like in the case of the monorail. With Sound Transit, they’re borrowing money at a pretty competitive rate, so the YOE numbers are only used by anti-transit folks trying to induce sticker shock. (When I buy a $300K condo, I don’t claim it’s a $600K condo, even though that’s what I’ll be paying over the course of a 30-year mortgage) So kudos to Feit for laying it out clearly.
However, he also says this:
Despite my bitterness about the $11 billion number that was thrown around to kill the monorail, I’m happy to shell out $10.2 billion or even $23 billion to get some mass transit in Seattle.
However, I am not able to stomach $6.7 billion or $14 billion on roads—roads— when I was told by everyone in town that $3 billion or $11 billion was too much for mass transit.
Though I voted for the monorail all five times, and still support the idea, I think it’s important to address the reasons why Feit was “told by everyone in town” that the project was too expensive, and why comparing the $6.7B/$14B for roads to the $3B/$11B makes little sense.
First, as you’ll notice, $14B is twice $6.7B, while $11B is nearly four times $3B. In other words, the monorail’s financing (using very long-term bonds) meant that we were paying a lot relative to what we were getting.
Second, the monorail tax was levied on the city of Seattle alone, while the RTID will be levied on a three-county region, so the costs are more spread out.
Finally, and this is a minor point, the monorail was financed purely with an MVET, whereas this package will be part-MVET, part-sales-tax. The addition of the sales tax widens the tax base and lessens the perceived impact.