Rick Anderson over at the Seattle Weekly blog wrote an absolutely ridiculous post. Normally, I am not one to call out people by name and launch direct assaults but I feel that this post is inexcusable given the analysis made elsewhere recently. I will discuss Rick Anderson’s post in parts:

You knew we were back in monorail wonderland along about the end of July when the Times reported Sound Transit’s November bus-rail expansion measure would cost $17.9 billion and the P-I reported it would cost $22.8 billion.

Absolutely ridiculous. the $17.9 billion number doesn’t include debt servicing, the $22.8 billion number does. It’s just different accounting metrics. They’re effectively the same cost. The papers do agree on the cost — both numbers come from Sound Transit, in fact. This will come up again later.

Now we have the $17.9 billion to $22.8 billion 2008 Prop 1. Or is it the $107.3 billion Prop 1? That’s the estimate of transportation planner and Sound Transit critic Jim MacIsaac. As the P-I reports today:

[P-I Quote]Bureaucrats hate it when you bring up real costs – the interest-weighted money it takes to finance construction.

Andersons defintion of “real costs”? That’d be the $22.8b number. Not the $107b number.

The $107b is a fabrication and has nothing to do with interest and everything to do with claims that the average Seattlite makes and spends tens of thousands more than reality, that the tax lasts 15 years longer than reality, and that Sound Move costs are somehow under Prop. 1. The $107b number says that Prop. 1 costs $52b even if it’s not passed. Ridiculous.

It tends to double and triple the price tag presented to taxpayers. Officials dismiss it with the argument that when you buy a house you don’t include interest in the price, either.

Nope. Debt servicing, or “interest,” takes a $17.9b number and makes it $22.8b. No doubling or tripling. That’s the difference — the Times doesn’t include “interest,” the P-I does. And by “interest,” we/Anderson mean/s debt servicing.

Typical of Nickels, ST and others pushing rail expansion – which most of us back – they’ll paint over reality rather than present us an honestly detailed picture.

Support rail expansion? Right. Listen, ST’s numbers are open to analysis. The Seattle P-I did analysis, and both The Stranger and this blog conclude that Sound Transit uses sound assumptions while the oppositon wildly inflates the “typical” family’s spending and arbitrarily assumes the tax lasts 15 years longer than planned. (A question never asked: Why 15 years longer than planned? Why not one more year? Why not three?)

Bottom line: MacIsaac’s projections are likely more practical than ST’s – the ballot measure does not specifically mention a tax time-out down the road.

It’s more practical to assume that the average family spends $50,000 on sales taxable items — things that aren’t food, rent, mortgage, gas? It’s more practical to assume that Sound Transit will break the law and extend the tax 30 years past construction? It’s more practical to say that Prop. 1 costs $52b even if it isn’t passed? It’s more practical to say that an anti-rail, anti-transit think tank is delivering fair numbers?

I think it’s practical to say that Rick Anderson didn’t read this blog, read The Stranger, or read The Seattle P-I and base his statements in any of the discussions of the day. He took the “No” campaign’s numbers at face value — even though their face value of Prop. 1 is nearly half ($55b vs. $107b) in the very P-I article that Anderson cites. (The $107b number includes $55b for mass transit expansion and $52b for Sound Move costs that will happen regardless of Prop. 1 passing — both $55b and $52b are wrong numbers.)

I can already hear the official excuse, come 2038, when the project is, cough, completely paid for: “Sorry, the tax will continue. Ha ha. They probably just said that to get the thing approved.”

Well, that’s a possibility but I think ST has learned from its mistakes and plans very conservatively. Still, assuming a 15 year increase in length is a bit much — that’d mean a bigger screw-up than Sound Move before 2001, which is a pretty tough accomplishment.

What I believe is more likely is that we vote in 8 or 12 or 16 years to extend the tax to continue expanding Link. But seriously, if the Link expansion is over-budget or over-schedule, does that mean we should just cancel the project — even if it’s 95% done? 99% done? I think the point is that voters who pass Prop. 1 are passing the idea that they want mass transit to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Bellevue — not the exact cost of- $17.9b or $22.8b or $55b or $107b. And Sound Transit’s number — $125 per household – is easily verifible: take the median income in the region, take the average amount of money someone with that income typically spends on sales taxable items, and you get $125.

Instead of looking at this logic, the Weekly took the lazy route and took a political campaign’s numbers at face value. The reasoning is inexcusable. The laziness is baffling. The conclusion is a joke. Rick Anderson: You didn’t do your job

(I am not unbiased on this matter. Besides writing for this blog and advocating for transit expansion in general, I am an unpaid volunteer for the Mass Transit Now campaign supporting Proposition 1.)

9 Replies to “The Weekly’s Rick Anderson Doesn’t Get it”

  1. Sorry if this strikes any readers as petty and too personal. I think someone writing for a “major” regional blog should do some check his assumptions before weighing in. If I can do it in my free time — unrelated to my day job in software — then certainly someone paid to be local media can do it.

    1. If Prop 1 fails, there is still lots of transit investment at work in the region:

      What happens if Prop 1 does NOT pass is well documented in Sound Transit’s recently issued 2009 budget proposal, which is a No-New-Taxes budget with no Prop 1 revenues listed.

      According to Sound Transit, even if Prop 1 fails, Link light rail to the airport will open for customer service, and construction of the light rail subway to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium will commence.

      This Sound Transit 2009 budget proposal document is available for download as http://www.soundtransit.org/Documents/pdf/about/financial/2009/Proposed%202009%20Budget.pdf and is posted on the Financial Documents page at http://www.soundtransit.org/x1230.xml .

      In addition, King County Metro’s Transit Now service expansion will continue, as will implementation of Community Transit’s Swift Bus Rapid Transit.

      I’ve also recently noticed that City of Seattle’s “Bridging The Gap” funding is making Metro bus service better around Seattle, most conspiculously on 15th in the Interbay, the road from downtown Seattle to Ballard, with a peak period buses-only lane put into operation for the 15/18 buses every ten minutes.

      1. John Niles-

        The growth of transit in this region is barely keeping up with the growth of employment. It is not keeping up with the growth of ridership.

        We cannot afford to slowly roll out our current plans. Yes, light rail to UW and RapidRide will be coming online over the next eight years — and those are great services to have. But we need more Sounder service, we need a 17% increase in express bus service, and we need to expand light rail past UW and up to Northgate and Lynnwood, and across the lake to Bellevue and Overlake.

    1. No, can you do this for me? I don’t know the editor’s contact info.

      I tried posting a comment but apparently it wasn’t approved.

  2. The good news: nobody reads the Weakly’s weak blog.

    The bad news: Seattle is full of “don’t get in the way of my car” liberals who view transit projects as an impediment to their smoke-bellowing 1978 Datsun trip to the store.

    Ross Anderson and half the Weakly staff seem to fall into this camp.

    So, naturally, Ross Anderson believes the hired henchmen of right wing think tanks when they lie about the costs of transit projects.

    Funny how the right wing dinosaurs and left wing dinosaurs get along so well. Dying breeds have got to stick together, don’t you know.

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