ST3 opponents are wearing the $54 billion figure like armor. It’s doubtful that a 25-year program expressed in year of expenditure (YOE) dollars results in a figure that people can meaningfully evaluate, but that’s the number the press has settled on. There’s the median $169 per adult estimate, which hides a lot of variation, or the online tax calculator that’s a bit more complicated. But anyway, $54 billion is a lot of money.
On the other hand, there’s this:
Zillow says Seattle home values up 15.7% YOY. Ergo single family homeowners net worth increased $10.8 billion in a single year. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
— mike eliason (@bruteforceblog) September 1, 2016
( The story is here, and says that the median single family home went up 14.3%, to $642,000. If there are 138,000 detached homes in Seattle, that comes out to $11.1 billion if you assume the median is the same as the mean. That means that $11 billion is an underestimate. Be advised that median home prices have their own problems. Mike used somewhat different inputs to get the $10.8 billion figure, but it’s really beside the point.)
For comparison, the entire Seattle portion of ST3 — light rail from Ballard to West Seattle, two infill stations, plus interim bus improvements — costs $6.8 billion in 2014 dollars at the high end of the estimates.
Some homeowners have earned the past year’s valuation gain through investment or sweat equity. But most others, including me, have seen a hefty boost to our net worth, passively, thanks to robust job creation and regulations that create artificial scarcity. If Seattle would simply capture about 60% of the single family home windfall in one year, it could fund the entire 20-year program for Seattle to transform transportation in several of the city’s most important corridors. That’s without touching the majority of residents that don’t live in detached homes at all. Moreover, not only would federal grants cover some of the projects, but income tax deductions mean that the Federal Government would effective cover up to a third of the project simply through the tax code.
Of course, this isn’t a real proposal. It’s not easy for the government to monetize that much of the capital gain in property, it would be hideously unpopular, arguably unfair, and in any case the legislature hasn’t granted the necessary taxing authority. But the point is that Seattle is a wealthy city that can easily afford this investment, scare numbers aside.