The No Campaign has opportunistically argued that the state of the economy makes it the wrong time to be raising taxes.  The Yes campaign has engaged this argument on its own turf by pointing out the stimulative effects of new construction.

What all the short-term positioning about the recession misses is that this is a 15-year plus project.  Regardless of whether the vote happens during a boom or during a depression, we’re going to pass through several business cycles before ST2 is completed.  There will be times the sales tax is a brake on an overheating economy, and other times construction jobs are a needed safety net in a down year.  Similarly, there will also be times the sales tax isn’t particularly helpful, and the rail building makes it more expensive to complete other construction projects.  I point this out not as a particularly pro-Prop. 1 assertion, but as a criticism of this entire line of argument.

The argument for more rail is clearer in the longer term.  Cost-benefit analysis, supposedly beloved of No campaigners, is fiendishly difficult to do in this context.  When you consider the benefits of a functioning rail line, you have to consider the net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.  That’s an enormously complicated evaluation, and that’s before you attempt to attach a cash value to those reductions.  Put 10 climate economists in a room and you’ll get 10 different opinions on how to value a reduction in CO2.

And that’s a tiny part of the overall computation.  You also have the jobs attracted to the region by a better infrastructure, the efficiency gains when more jobs are reachable from a home thanks to reliable transport, positioning for potential petroleum shortages, improvement to public health from walkable neighborhoods and less pollution, reduced operating costs compared to buses, etc.

All the things mentioned above are benefits that continue essentially forever, while the tax to enable it (minus a continuing operating subsidy — perhaps a 0.1% sales tax) will wind up in a matter of decades.  As someone constitutionally inclined to spend a little now to save a lot in the future, that seems like a winner to me.

Alternately, I can personalize it.  Is this improvement to my ability to get around worth $5.75 a month to me or not?  I don’t know where I’ll be living and working in 2023, nor where my son (17 in 2023) will be living and working soon afterwards, but if it’s in the Seattle area I know I’d like to have an option that makes ever-increasing gridlock and ever-increasing fuel prices irrelevant to my — and his — travels.  I’m a saver for the future by nature, so I’ll vote YES and donate to the campaign.  What about you?

3 Replies to “Proposition 1 and the Economy”

  1. the carbon part of the equation just doesn’t appeal to the no voters. i tried to convince an avid skiier (who would love to see a new resort built in protected forest up in snoqualmie) that a better idea is to build some sort of rail connection, or if its too steep some other sort of rapid/frequent transit for skiiers.

    he saw no value in not having to drive. its only an hour or so he responded. doing any kind of cost benefit analysis i think means you are a yes voter. no voters have no time to actually analyze the issue.

  2. Honestly pursuing a “carbon” strategy for selling transit is pointless, most voters couldn’t care less. You have to sell the cost-savings and reliability aspects.

  3. Good post, Martin. But as our national politics points out, for many voters there is only a tenuous connection between rational decisionmaking and their voting patterns. One of my son’s Pony League baseball coaches is vice president of an ironworks/concrete firm that won a bit of a Sound Transit project. He was cautiously boasting that the firm would be needing to hire five new tradesmen this Fall and everyone would be getting record bonuses if they finished early. Yet he perpetually votes (R) and against infrastructure. He calls himself a “fiscal conservative.” I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get him to connect the dots on government investment in infrastructure and jobs even though it was there staring him right in the face.


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