40 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Shinjuku Stainless”

  1. So, in the other thread, John Bailo says that long-term Seattle taxpayers are underpaying on, I suppose, undervalued properties. Considering it might be off-topic over there, what does this mean? Is it like California’s only resetting valuations on sale or that there’s an upper limit on how much of a valuation increase a property can see over time? Why not just reset the property valuation to whatever the last documented sale price was?

    1. In retrospect, that last question is kind of dumb. If the property hasn’t been sold for 20-something years, there is no last sale price. So, is it that if someone owns a parcel for a long while, the assessed value goes up by a lot less than the actual value in an arms-length transaction?

      1. If a property is sold, then that’s a good clue to the assessor what the market value is. For other properties, the assessor should be using comparable sales.

    2. Q. What is the 1 percent limit on increases in property taxes?

      It limits increases in taxes by individual taxing districts to 1 percent annually. For example, if a city received $1 million in property taxes one year, it can only receive $1.01 million the next year, plus any tax revenues generated by new construction added to the tax rolls in the past year.


      So, a district, in toto, can only raise its property taxes 1% a year. (However, it can spread the load around as properties rise and fall in value, assuming it fairly reassesses them).

      But with a 1% limit, after 20 or 30 years of high growth, the property taxes collected her are insanely out of step with the pricing. And certainly, it is the property owners who benefit the most from increasing infrastructure, including transit, and hence should be assessed.

      Another way we could fund development is to revert to the original intent of the state Constitution where taxable property included tangible (real estate) and intangible (stocks, bonds) assets.

      A series of exemptions took intangible financial assets off the table. Some lawmakers (Bob Hasagawa) have been trying to restore these as taxable.

      If you had to ask me what the best, ultimate fair tax would be, it would be the Federal NIIT or Net Investment Income Tax, the one that funds Obamacare.


      I advocate a state version of this tax, something like an additional 0.5% on top the 3.8% currently assessed. Implementing this would require almost no paperwork as it is already being collected federally.

      More info on WA State Property Taxes:


      1. Intangibles taxes worked for a long time in Florida. But I don’t really advocate them.

        There’s a strong case to be made for taxing *income* from property rather than taxing property. If you tax property, people may have to sell their houses (or their stocks or their bonds) just to pay the tax, and they get very upset. If you tax realized income, that can’t ever happen: the person got the income, in cash, and therefore has the cash to pay the taxes, right now.

        Washington state badly needs to pass an income tax, at least for “unearned” income like dividends and interest and capital gains.

        You want to keep the income tax popular? Exempt wages and salaries less than $1 million a year. Tax the idle rich.

      2. An income tax, capital gains tax or NIT all essentially tax the same thing: income. It just differentiates the source. All make sense, for the reasons you mentioned, Nathanael. When you make it, you have it, so (presumably) paying it is less of an ordeal. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a pain — it is pretty easy to think of scenarios where paying this tax would be just as upsetting as paying a property tax. If a corporate bond matures, and you were planning on using the money to buy food, then any additional tax may mean that you “may have to sell the house (or stocks or bonds) just to pay the tax”.

        A property tax, on the other hand, taxes wealth. Why should we have more sympathy for someone who is wealthy, but not bringing in a lot of income, as opposed to the other way around? Generally speaking, property taxes are fairly low. The highest property tax in the country is around 2.5 percent. That means that it will take 40 years before the taxes equal the value of the property. Just about anyone who is “house rich”, but “income poor” is old enough to buy a reverse mortgage, which should cover the cost of the taxes and then some.

      3. Sounds like we may be coalesing around a State NIIT.

        It’s both an income tax — meaning it can be collected in real time, without unworkable assessing of property — and a tax related to the value a person receives from his intangibles. At the same time, generous exemptions provide a shelter for the lower and middle and even professional classes to not have their basic homes and small plot properties taxed too heavily.

      4. Hate to burst your bubble, but investment income and income past a million dollars are really volatile. California has this problem, and hasn’t quite figured out how to manage it. It’s the sort of thing that’s really hard for a divided and polarized legislature to manage, and that’s something we have in common with California (and much of the west).

    3. John is correct in pointing out that it’s the total tax take that can only increase 1% a year although that doesn’t include a huge portion of the property tax tax which are local levies and special assessments. What King Co. has done for years is re-balance the property tax almost completely by upping the rates on residential property which are often in excess of market value; almost entirely in excess of real market value following the bubble when nobody’s property tax went down even half of the actual drop in value. Since Seattle has the most and highest valued commercial property the City is indeed failing to pay it’s share if we were going to assess properties based on market value. Commercial property often remains assessed at less than half the sale price.

      1. Ick. The state constitution, as Bailo quoted it, seems to require that residential and commercial property be assessed fairly, rather than giving a huge discount to commercial property and socking it to residential propertly. How did this develop? It’s probably a violation fo the state constitution.

    4. Property taxes doesn’t need to be raised. What needs to happen is the vast list of exemptions need to be reduced and more people need to pay. We need to collect from more people and businesses. The current system is unsustainable. Look at the growth of ST, as they gobble up more and more land, they are taking away formerly property tax paying properties and replacing them with non-tax paying parcels that are also publicly subsidized. Just look at what happens when they buy a private parcel to put a transit station parking garage on it.

      1. Yes, indeed, look at what happens when ST builds a station at somewhere like–Columbia City. Over time, the neighborhood improves, people build more housing nearby, property values increase and more tax revenue is generated. What an outrage!

      2. Guy, when ST bought Auburn Station parking garage, and the structure got taken off the tax rolls, and they then let commuters park for free, tell me how more tax revenue was generated.

      3. Yeah, besides, ST is “gobbling up” very small chunks of land anyway. Sam may have a point with regards to exemptions, though, but I’m not sure. I wonder how much extra income would be raised if they simply got rid of all the exemptions. I’m not sure it would be that much money.

        For publicly owned land, it gets hard to measure. Do parks count? If so, then the number could be much bigger. But, just like an ST station, the value added to the neighborhood might exceed the value of it if it was privately held.

        But the big problem with a parking garage is that they don’t charge market rates for the lot. This is the opposite of the station itself. It pushes down the value of other land, or at least other land that could be used for a parking lot. The owner of a lot next to Park and RIde will have a hard time charging much if the Park and Ride is giving it away for free. I think this should be considered part of the calculations when determining the cost of a free (or otherwise subsidized) park and ride. Consider how much the lot would be worth if it were privately run, then calculate the taxes. This part is easy. Measuring the cost to similar businesses (other parking lots) is harder.

        The obvious answer is to charge market rates, which would bring in more money than property taxes would. Another solution is just to sell the land (or not acquire it in first place). If people expect a Park and Ride, then they could sell it to someone on the promise that it remain a parking lot for the next twenty years. After that, the owner could build whatever the market demands. This would still cost the taxpayer (because the owner is forced to run a parking lot for twenty years) but it is minor compared to what exists now.

  2. A year or two back, columnist Jon Talton noted very accurately that the United States has now developed an economy whose health depends not on its productivity, but on “the price of a house.”

    And, as I doubt I’m the only one to notice, also the understanding that this measure is only positive if the price is constantly going up. With no questions asked about any increase in the quality of the house.

    Any price alteration in the other direction, no matter how many working people benefit, is cause for alarm. The inevitable and predictable fate of every overinflated balloon also causes alarm.

    But as yet not enough to generate any political effort to restore the industrial productivity and social mobility that until forty years ago gave this country the world’s most solid economy. And also the finest transit equipment in the world.

    Property taxes, vehicle excise taxes, sales taxes, income taxes…there’d be less outright hate about any of them in a population not only making a decent living, but a hundred times more, not having to spend their lives in debt.

    And as the colored maps show, a lot more support for decent transit the more incomes Statewide come to resemble those of the area currently that passed I-118.

    Incidently, have always hated the red and blue division of this country’s political maps. Who thought that up? Maybe a nasty juxtaposition of the Civil War uniforms of the North, versus the collar-lines of the South. Farm work bent over in the sun does that to people.

    Better if my side had the red one, from the class connection and also the original political one-meaning before Stalin: historically, when the fight for rights is chased from courts and legislatures to the streets, only one side gets to dip its shirts in its own blood for flags.

    Mark Dublin

    1. It’s funny, but I think of my Dad who grew up during the Depression and World War II.

      If, say, there was a way to avoid paying a fee or slightly additional tax, he would say well, why would I want to cheat the Government!

      But that was because he and his cohorts felt they were part of a United States. And that in return the society looked out for them, and fed them when there was no work, and in return they worked hard when there was and fought and died in war.

      Many anti-tax Conservatives became that way for the reason they felt that what they paid in was not what they got out, or worse, that their tax monies were being used against them. Meanwhile, the bad guys figured out they could steal from all of us if they pitted red and blue against each other on divisive (but meaningful) social issues, preventing any debate on financial ones.

      1. Totally right.

        The early “anti-tax conservatives” were in fact the slaveholding plantation owners of the Confederacy, and the current leaders of the “anti-tax conservative” movement are the direct intellectual descendants of them. They are manipulating the grassroots — it’s been described as “deliberately breaking the government so that people will oppose the government”. They have seized on anything they can use to convince the 99% to give them more money.

        It was a point of pride to be rich enough to owe income taxes back in the 1920s and 1950s, and many rich people paid their taxes gladly. Now we have something else going on — rich people who don’t want to pay for the government which spends its time protecting and coddling them.

      2. So if I voted against Prop 1 I’m a plantation owning slaveholder or sympathizer thereof?


      3. @Nathanial (and John) — Well said. I totally agree.

        @Miami Vice — No. Read the posts again. This time assume that it isn’t all about you, nor proposition one.

      4. As I said, guys like Nathanael twist people’s words around and cause divisiveness.

        No doubt his paymasters’ employ him for just such a diabolical purpose.

        Change will come as we realize the great amount of information pollution being spread by the Nathanaels of the noosphere.

      5. Excellent observation on politics, John. No surprise for people who want to stay in power- one of the Robber Barons said he wasn’t worried about the labor solidarity of his day because: “I could pay half the working class to shoot the other half.”

        His corporate successors-leaner and meaner. Modern cost-benefit analysis shows them they don’t need anywhere near that many thugs. Also cheaper just to spend their money on TV ads and bribes, I mean lobbying…

        What you’ve described, I personally watched happen back home in Michigan, especially around Detroit forty years ago. And US history from long before our Founding added something else: before 1700, planters noticed that it really worked to set their equally poor tenants against each other by skin color. Which still really works.

        Not generally known, but many who call themselves “Neo-Conservatives” started out not liberal democrats, but very left-wing radicals. Huge factor changing minds was that US supporters of the Russian Revolution were noticing that if Stalin or his adherents only had one bullet, they’d always shoot somebody to their left. By the dozens of thousands.

        Also the more violent the revolution: once even a bad legal government collapses, people with best work experience for armed revolution are robbers, murders, and their employers.

        Anything like a liberal (which includes the guys you mentioned, John) outcome depends on the good side winning a lot of gun-battles with some of their allies. And also knowing that there’s more to running a country than hanging a dictator.

        In this country now, real division is between those with only something to lose, across class lines are generally older, and those who know they should have something to gain and haven’t got a hope.

        Of an age shared in common by kids of all skin colors. Difference being that one group knows its condition, and the other is rapidly finding out, as a degree gets as impossible as finding work or getting out of debt.

        The National Debt? And as arguable as argued. But every immigrant knows this about inescapable personal debt: where there’s this much gasoline on the ground, somebody’s gonna find a match.


    2. In other countries and in this one before 2000, the colors of left and right were/are reversed: the left is red and the right is blue. For whatever reason, networks used the opposite colors to track Bush v. Gore on election night, and the convention stuck.

      1. It’s ironic that conservatives have acquired the communist color. But weren’t Reagan’s “landslides” also presented in red?

    1. One of the neat things about the low-income fare program is that it alters the math. The benefit of fare dodging goes way down, since the fine is still the same. I’ve noticed a number of former paper transfer recyclers reducing their carbon footprint by getting a disabilities ORCA. Thanks, guys, for being good riders! This is much more efficient than the silly one-ticket-at-a-time program.

      In general, increasing operational costs to go after fare evaders is money down the drain. You can’t get people to pay money they don’t have. I much prefer the proof-of-payment system, as it allows security to be all over the place, not just at turnstiles, and act more as security than as fare police.

      Let me know where I can send you my autograph, Sam!

  3. First trip to Sweden seven years ago, found something interesting: Huge amount of public transit is operated by private contractors like Veolia. By succeeding trip, Stockholm had replaced Veolia with somebody cheaper. This morning lists one of Stockholm’s contractors as MTR out of China.

    Swedish transit and intercity bus guys I spoke with said that in general, contract bosses were about like public ones, though efficiency was nowhere near privatizing politicians’ hopes. Also, things like work hours and time off were sacrificed to shareholders.

    Most troubling of all was that pensions looked to be less generous and secure- meaning much higher turnover and damaged worker morale and loyalty to the trade.

    Noticed that large number if not most of the first-line operating personnel, drivers and supervisors alike were not ethnic northern Europeans, though likely all were Swedish citizens. Turks, Somalis, Bosnians- again personal opinions from workers- this work is considered too hard and limited for people with professional ambitions. Like somewhere else?

    Securitas guards really impressed me with their professionalism and well-trained concern for the public. Their headquarters overlooks the main mile-wide railway out of Gothenburg. Across the tracks there’s a gold lion with a sword on a 1600’s castle. Should be their emblem.

    The organization in the article? To me, something like this in Seattle would be enormously positive, for public life in general and transit in particular. I keep hoping people that age here will develop the political consciousness and organizing ability here as European kids have long had there. It’s our country’s only hope of surviving, let alone coming out of current Depression.

    But good for transit because, basically, fare collection in general might as well jam both fare boxes and mezzanine machines under the wheels of the service. Counting and accounting for money wastes time, and the closer to seats and aisles, the more expensive the waste.

    Still looking for this factor, and giving it a Greek letter: the cost of one minute of operating delay. Add a column for this on the balance sheet, and we’ll do what the protestors are suggesting. Across the income spectrum and whatever one’s view of taxes- business-wise we’re all ahead.

    Mark Dublin

  4. Oh, and PS about fares and Sweden:

    On the excellent publicly run streetcar system in Gothenburg, fare inspectors, mostly young, now wear fashionable grey light windbreaker jackets with green and yellow flowers on the back, and a message reading:

    “If you have a question, please ask me.”

    These kids work for Securitas. But they told me the system specified to the contractor that they were not to wear security-looking uniforms. The car-line did not want them to look intimidating.

    Lot of lessons in Gothenburg for our near future in Seattle. Luckily, Icelandair flight 680 clears the tower at Sea-Tac just after 4:30 every afternoon. Fares reasonable, especially in the fall, service highly professional. You’re in Iceland for morning coffee, and in Copenhagen three hours later.

    Down the escalator, get on electric rail, and you’re in Gothenburg four hours later. Definite candidate for ST3, just like Olympia where transit people are also very nice. And hours-wise, wouldn’t be longest ride in present ST service area.


    1. A direct train from the Copenhagen airport to Gothenborg? That sounds so Netherlands-, Germany-, and Switzerland-like. But across three countries and presumably waterways.

      I’ve been thinking about visiting Scandinavia to see the top-rate transit and pedestrian areas I’ve been hearing about. Do you have any particular recommendations on where to go or what to include?

      1. Good observation, Mike. Reason is- remember how close together those countries really are- is that the whole idea of nation-states is very recent.

        Many borders date from the time some Englishman drew a line on a map- designed to further English interests. The locals’ interests? Well….there’s Iraq and Afghanistan.

        Driving through southern Sweden to visit a castle called “Glimminghus”- I was thinking Disneyland and Mad King Ludwig, turrets and pennants, I told my wife that a building ahead looked very Dutch.

        Her answer? “Try Danish.” Denmark ruled the west coast of Sweden for several hundred years- ’til the British gave it to the Swedes after the Napoleonic War. For much of that time, politics was gang war between the King of Denmark and the Archbishop of Gothenburg- both Danes. Much of the Swedish officer corps and professional classes was Danish.

        Western Finland and much of Finnish officialdom has long been ethnically Swedish. The god-awful civil war they had in 1918 was partly left versus right, meaning Russia versus Germany, but also a class difference that put Swede versus Finn.

        Incidentally, Helsinki is a fascinating city with an excellent streetcar system. Finns do awesome architecture and industrial design. They’re also building their own streetcar fleet.

        Stockholm has an excellent subway system, and also two nice light rail lines, one of them operating every kind of right-of-way found anywhere on a light rail system. Look up “Tverbanna, Alvik to Sickla Udde.”

        Oslo, Norway has streetcar lines through neighborhoods that look like something out of Ibsen and Strindberg, and a ride on Route 12 across a waterfront plaza that makes absolute idiots out of people who say there’s no room for streetcars on our waterfront, because of pedestrian needs. Go see it and speak to Seattle City Council and Port of Seattle on your return.

        But Gothenburg, pronounced Yooteborg, I think is the one with so many lessons for Seattle we need transit sister-city ties and possibly inclusion in ST3. And Seattle Streetcar too. Surface running-soil hard to tunnel, so max surface running.

        Over many, many miles. Law says streetcars have right of way over everything else, and jaywalking is deep in the culture. But low rate of both fatalities and operating delay indicates that long familiarity, common sense, and operating skill all CREATE right of way.

        Strong national health care also saves on both risk management and legal fees. People who don’t have to add financial ruin to physical injury are a lot less likely to sue.

        Incidentally, reason Gothenburg has beautiful canals is that the Dutch businessmen who located there thought that every city should have canals. They make for beautiful parks and boat rides.

        If it’s ok with STB, they’re welcome to give you my e-mail. My three roundtrip Icelandair flights, and the guidance of my darling late wife Virginia, convinced me that Puget Sound will be a lot Greater the more transit people get over there and look.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Gothenburg: They’re tunneling. They’re private ROW-ing. They’re getting rid of mixed running wherever possible, and they sure as hell aren’t jostling to build more of it!

        Even in minuscule Gothenburg — urbanized area just a few miles across, greater metro area home to only 950,000 — slowpoke streetcars failed the mobility needs of real people with real lives.

        But I’ve reminded you of this… what, Mark?… a dozen times? And you keep repeating your falsehood?

        What benefit could possibly be derived from the persistent bombardment of Seattle’s transit neophytes — so proven prone to adopting the worst practices when handsomely packaged — with what amounts to an outright lie?

        Perhaps you need to remove your head from your nostalgia long enough to ask whether you actually care about mobility, the sole dignified purpose of transit, at all.

    1. The only two things of note about the old depot are a few remaining terra cotta details and that it was the southern station on the old interurban.

      I wish Grayhound could have found a better station location say near King Street. Something like what Portland has would be wonderful (it would also give a place for all of those thruway coaches to stop).

      1. Every time I take the train into Portland, first thing I see embarrassing to Seattle is the Greyhound station. Closely followed with easy day-pass purchase, costing five dollars for a whole system with lots of rail-two dollars for seniors, but I can only stand so much embarrassment in one day, so I paid five-across sidewalk from Greyhound, followed by ultimate humiliation: arrival of a MAX train.

        It always seemed to me that Seattle has long had the stronger economy. Am I wrong about this? If not, what really is the matter with this place that Portland seems top have more grace and beauty- and forty years’ jump on us with transit?

        Would think worse of our new Greyhound Station- how are they going to get any buses in there?- except the station isn’t the only thing about that bus company that needs to be demolished, enlarged, and replaced with something worthy of a first-world city.

        Restoration of bus service on the order of Turkey’s might be a good thing to include during the replacement of AMTRAK by a passenger rail system like we used to have on our way into the First World. Wouldn’t be the world’s first rail system to have buses too.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Agree with being closer to King Street, although a much better location than Stewart location. Hope Bolt will stop there also, so riders can have a place to sit and have bathroom facilities.

      3. The distance seems on par with Chicago’s Greyhound and Amtrak stations. The Greyhound station is a few blocks off to the side. Also, come to think of it, Victoria Coach Station is a few blocks from Victoria Station, and Duesseldorf’s (local [1]) bus station is the next building over from the train station.

        [1] At least, I only took a suburban bus from there. I didn’t pay attention to whether it had longer-distance buses. FWIW, the bus was kind of like the 226 before the 550 took over. It ran parallel to three Duesseldorf S-Bahn stations, then got on an autobahn for ten minutes, then to one suburb (aka Mercer Island), then another (aka Bellevue) but it didn’t go to the center of town, it stayed on the west side. I got off between two car dealerships, and then the bus went who knows where. There is an S-Bahn station in that burb but it’s on the opposite side of town, a half-hour ride away on a different bus, and a different S-Bahn line from the one I mentioned. My bus was half-hourly until 10:30 or 11:30pm. And the stops were a half-mile apart. It apparently operated by proof of payment, because the driver wasn’t interested in my pass and we got in and out in the back. So a kind of proto RapidRide.

      4. Yup. Downtown Portland MAX. Clanging at you at 3.5 miles per hour. Every 35 minutes or better! Maybe!

        Portland envy is stupid.

  5. I have an honest question. How come my Gangnam Style Countdown to 2 Billion Youtube Views comments are being deleted?

    1. Maybe because a consortium of North Korean intelligence, great Scottish and Canadian YouTube performers and John Belushi’s estate, are confusing Gangnam with Gangland- I mean, look at that guy’s suit!- and think somebody is making fun of John.

      Some fantastic streetcar footage on YouTube, though. Great operating suggestions, and also things transit PR leaves out. Like burning streetcar in Helsinki and really drunk passengers in Gothenburg. So watch those instead.


  6. I can’t remember what it is called officially right now, but I’m thinking about the car tabs and how they used to be a higher rate for a higher-valued car. Would it take much to make our sales tax kinda the same way? I mean, something like 8% for up to $150, then 9% up to $500, then 10% up to $1000, then 11% for everything else. That way, low-income people pay a lower tax rate when they buy clothes, etc, but when you buy a car or boat, you pay a higher sales tax rate. I don’t know if something like this has ever been discussed…

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