16 Replies to “Podcast #50: The Boat to Renton”

  1. Y’all barely noticed the *sales tax* that is the main funding source for Seattle’s transit buy-up. It’s no wonder politicians dislike car tabs. It’s not whether it is regressive or fair, but that even the Editor-in-Chief of the Seattle Transit Blog notices it more than he notices the extra sales tax every time he purchases something other than groceries.

    I would hope the lege would offer up replacement funding sources if they are going to mess with the car tab. As in, allow more local options, since they are completely uninterested in the state funding transit in any serious way.

    (I can’t recall Sen. Hasegawa even offering a funding source for his free transit gadgetbahn. Oh yeah, a State Bank and a City Bank will fund ALL our programs. Um, sure.)

    1. I’m not sure what your point is. At the lead in to the discussion I said it was a car tab tax and a sales tax. We didn’t dwell on either revenue source.

  2. Over the years I’ve lived in Washington State, I still can’t figure out why people so rabidly can’t stand a progressive income tax. It’s far and away the fairest.

    As Car Tab War I cranked up, I think it was Dave Ross on KIRO who noted that a fairly-assessed tab tax would be our own closest approximation to a tax actually based on personal income.

    Seems to me that in wars then and now, our side should’ve had more one on one talks with average drivers for their own take on what’s fair.

    But I still wonder why people here regard the fairest tax as the worst. What’s everybody else think?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Besides introducing extra bureaucracy for ordinary citizens to navigate, an income tax is massively more expensive than a sales tax of the same rate, since the amount of gross income an average person receives is substantially more than the amount of money that person spends on taxable goods.

      Taking a look at my recent expense history, taxable expenses include things like clothes, entertainment, and restaurant meals, which are not huge, in absolute terms. By contrast, a typical person’s largest expenses – rent, groceries, transportation(*) are not subject to sales tax. Replacing a 10% tax on taxable expenses with a 10% on entire income – including money that was simply withheld to the IRS for federal taxes would amount to a very large tax increase.

      (*) Assuming you are willing to accept owning a car being a luxury, rather than a necessity. Yes, the cost to buy a car is subject to sales tax. But, Metro fares and even Uber are not taxed (although Uber probably should be). And, even for car owners, two big recurring expenses – gas and insurance – are not subject to sales tax (the per-gallon excise tax doesn’t count, as that goes into a special fund that can only be spent on roads).

      1. Extra bureaucracy? Why can’t same taxing authority that handles sales and car-tabs do same for a income tax? Understand, I’d intend for the taxes that really do make a pest of themselves, like the Business and Occupations tax, to go away.

        But I’m concentrating on the black column of the balance sheet. Like the rest of our country, we’re soon likely to face the serious uncompensated cost of (another) major sewage blow-out. Along with some bridges causing serious damage to whatever’s on them when they collapse or sink.

        And transportation-wise, I’m not noticing any pay for overtime idling in stuck traffic. My own view of Government itself is not as either a victim or a beneficiary, but as an owner-operator of shareholder-free machinery that my fellow-citizens and I jointly own.

        And right now would gladly pay tax money of mine to get myself and a whole future full of beginning operators full training in that very machine.

        Though since I don’t want my taxes spent keeping the State Legislature in jail for contempt, tempting as it is, I’d support letting anybody sixteen and over to stay out of school and do whatever they want.

        With all the energy and money presently keeping them involuntarily in schools that don’t teach them anything spent on giving them public service work they’ll both need and want. And which most Washington taxpayers also need done, but refuse to pay for.

        Now: sales tax, car tabs, or income. Which tax makes it easier- not primarily cheaper- to pay for what I want to get? Starting with stopping that underground river of radioactive waste from becoming a tributary of the Columbia River?


      2. The “bureaucracy” argument is one I haven’t heard. If we’re not sure how to set one up, we can send state officials to some of the 43 states with such a bureaucracy set up.

        But since you mention income tax, why can’t the legislature allow Seattle to have its own local option for a graduated income tax?

      3. It’s not necessarily about facts, it’s about perceptions. While I was growing up and several income-tax proposals failed, the main argument was that two tax mechanisms are better than three because even if sales tax is reduced to make the income tax revenue-neutral, inevitably it would creep back up again as those greedy legislators and cancerous bureaucracy pass new taxes, and we’d end up in a situation where the sales tax is as high as it is now and we’d have an income tax, which is exactly where California is. The thinking is that if there’s only two tax mechanisms, the total tax burden will be lower, because there’s a limit to how much people will tolerate raising each one. People think Washington is a blue state because we’re moderate about social and religious issues and care a whit about school funding and the poor, but there’s a long history of trying to keep it a low-tax state, which is why it has the most regressive tax system in the country. People think they benefit by not having an income tax, and didn’t think about how much the rich make out like bandits. In the 70s and 80s it was the golden era when wages had been rising, and housing and gas and medical insurance were cheap [1], and homeless people were a “New York problem” that was just starting to appear here, so people were not as desperate and didn’t need state services as much.
        [1] The gas-price rises in the early 70s were shocking and panicking, but if you look at it now they were a tempest in a teapot. I remember when gas reached $1 and people thought that was expensive, and even the gas pumps had to be replaced because they only went up to 99c. At first some gas stations switched to liters, but that was outlawed because Americans couldn’t tell whether a liter price at one gas station was the same as a gallon price at another station or whether the liter stations were jacking up the price to gouge people. But now people accept $3, $4, and even $5 prices in California with little more than a grumble. (And the price did reach $4.25 in Washington and $5.25 in California in September 2008, which some people say was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the economy and tipped it into recession, because consumers and industry couldn’t afford it.)

      4. The tax-collection bureaucracy wasn’t as big an issue, but people assume intuitively that it costs money to send out tax forms and collect them and enforce them, and they like that they don’t have to fill out a state income tax form, and we can just throw away the sate and local copies of the W-2s because our state doesn’t use them.

      5. If only it were possible to set an income tax rate that was lower than 10% yet still yielded the same revenue as a 10% sales tax, or that had a different percentage for high-earners versus low…

  3. My real question still holds. Any balance sheet has two columns. Red for what we’re spending. And black for what we’re getting for it. As citizens of a free country and one of is states, we’ve got both the right and the duty to use our government as our own tool to get ourselves things that no corporation can make a profit providing.

    Private industry does very well providing things people want. But for things people need, shareholders are really a conflict of interest, because they’ve got first call on the taxpayers’ money being paid to a privatized company. Also, with our government, we are the Board of Directors. Whose inevitable problem is that a citizen has to work harder than a customer.

    The Boston Tea Party was not about government spending, but about a particular tax, administered by a government over which the colonists really had no control. For many public things, particularly personal and national defense, instead of insisting that everyone carry all the weapons they needed to defend themselves individually, they would have taxed themselves for the purchase price to form a public police force.

    But the main problem democratic government has always had is that in order to work, citizens themselves have to be educated how to run it, and also responsible enough to willingly do the extra work required to govern intelligently.

    There’s nothing more truly conservative than the idea that taxes are the money we, the citizens, spend to keep our government in working order, and directed toward work that we its owners and operators decide we need done. But exactly like a car-or the BART- years of good performance without much attention from its owners lead inevitably to deferred maintenance.

    Of which our State and country are presently dying. Likely epitaph of The United States of America:

    “Never in History did a country and its people working ,through their governments at every level make possible such a good life for its people, and ask so little of us. Safe working lifespan? “As long as our tools don’t have to squeal and smell like burning bearings as they beg for repairs and replacements.”

    Mark Dublin

    1. There are at least two visions of a democratic government, and this is only one of them. One vision is that it’s a mechanism for the people to tax themselves for whatever they want, especially things that the private sector doesn’t provide well. That’s your vision and it leads to things like comprehensive transit, universal healthcare, etc.

      The other vision is that the only legitimate purpose of government is national defense, the police/courts to enforce personal and property rights, and road-building which intrinsically connects multiple people’s properties. Democracy is just a fair way to choose the people who manage those things. But if government gets into other functions, then inevitably some people will be forced to pay for things they don’t want but other people want. Even if the majority want transit or universal healthcare or the rich to pay for affordable housing, it’s unfair to force the minority who don’t want it to pay for it. People just want government to leave them alone.

      The first vision also doesn’t work in a divided society where half the people don’t want the other half to have the things they have — not unless they can earn it without subsidy and in spite of discrimination. This is the US situation. There are just too many people who don’t want the first vision, and their votes and gerrymanders block it.

      Europe is different, and the best explanation I’ve heard for that is that they remember walled cities as protection against invaders and highwaymen, and how their greatest cultural achievements and standard of living came from working together in cities. Whereas Americans see cities as pits of sin and polluting factories and communist taxation and coersion, and they don’t want to be part of it.

  4. regarding the potential RENTON–>SOUTH LAKE UNION fast ferry:

    the folks on the podcast admit [@ about 16:00] a lack of knowledge about boat speeds,
    so here are some facts, details, and calcs.
    (dunno if this grants me style points, but I am writing this from the pilothouse of a vessel while underway on Puget Sound….)

    **the length of what is considered the “Ship Canal” –the entrance channel near shilshole; thru the locks; Salmon Bay; Fremont Cut; Lake Union; Portage Bay; Montlake Cut– does indeed have a speed limit. From the entrance in Puget Sound to Webster Point (the southern tip of Laurelhurst) all vessels are limited to a maximum speed of 7 knots (about 8 mph). This is in part to limit boat wakes, but is also an issue of safety — there are regularly rowing shells, canoes, SUPs, etc. throughout those waters.

    **there is no speed limit (beyond rules governing ‘prudent & safe operation’) on Lake Washington, although vessels are supposed to minimize their wakes passing through the floating bridges, which would probably mean cutting speed again to about 7 knots (which would also be a safe standard practice, since it is potentially difficult to see small vessels on approach to/thru the bridges).

    **just using the Bremerton fast ferry as an example of the type of vessel which could/would probably be used, it has a maximum speed of 38 knots (44 mph), but generally travels at a speed of about 27 knots (31 mph) for the sake of fuel consumption and passenger comfort. (the RICH PASSAGE is literally going past me right now as I write this — it is going 32.5kts). So for our purposes here it seems a good to assume a vessel which (when at speed) averages about of 30 kts (34.5mph).

    **So a boat trip from Renton to South Lake Union has two very distinct segments/phases:
    the aproximately 9.5 nautical miles (11 statute miles) from Renton up Lake Washington to the entrance into the ship canal;
    the aproximately 4 nautical miles (4.6 miles) from Webster Pt. thru Montlake Cut, Portage Bay, and Lake Union to a dock in South Lake Union.

    **So the trip from Renton to Webster Point (mostly run at 30kts, slowing for the bridges) would take about 22-25 minutes; and the run in the “confined” waters with the 7kt speed limit would take about 35 minutes — for a total trip duration of about 60 minutes (don’t forget there’s a minute or two at both ends to maneuver and moor/unmoor — this isn’t just like a bus pulling up to a curb….).
    so thems the facts & calculations,
    here are a couple thoughts:
    **dunno where someone got the estimate of 45 minutes (mentioned in recent stories & the podcast), it’ll take more like an hour. And while maybe an additional 15 minutes isn’t a deal-breaker, it is significant.
    **comparing this hour-long trip to the current 35 minute run of the Bremerton boat, you start to get an idea of the economics — virtually double fuel, personnel hours, etc.
    **And while a vessel will certainly not have the same fuel “burn” rate at slower speeds, boats designed to run fast are often poor preformers (inefficient, produce large wakes) at slower speeds.
    **so yeah, thanks to the speed-limited section of the trip, that segment –which is less than half the distance of the run up Lake Washington– takes significantly longer.
    **and finally,
    digressing a bit here:
    I personally think a water-transit-station should be developed east of Montlake Cut, in the vicinity of the UW Waterfront Activity Center and the ASUW Shell House (aka “Canoe House”).
    At that location you are less than a mile “inside” of Webster Point, which means the speed-limited section of the trip would get down to about 9 minutes — so a trip from Renton to there would take less than 35 minutes. A waterfront “station” at this location would be about 1000 feet from the LINK Stadium Station; and of course UW itself (w/hospital, etc — it’s one of the city’s biggest employment centers).
    This site could also serve trips of an –often-discussed– passenger ferry from Kirkland. And because from that point trips into Lake Union, Ballard, Fremont, etc. would all be on more “protected” waters (anything that is going to transit on Lake Washington –especially at high speed– by definition has to be much more seaworthy….), a fleet of smaller passeneger vessels could/would provide water-bourne connectivity through the whole Lake Union / Ship Canal area. I’m think of a system like the one in Baltimore — they have 13 boats on 6 different routes serving 17 different stops — it really does function much like a bus system, but one which cannot get stuck in traffic…..

    link to baltimore system:

  5. Great podcast. As to the last part about HALA and all, what I find really frustrating from Skagit County is this…………………. (imagine a long pause)

    Why the bloody hell is it in Skagitonia where we put preserving farmland at a premium we are not just as enthusiastic as Seattle is about housing density? Also how does a transit advocate like me get others excited?

    Furthermore, as an OLFer or big fan of OLF Coupeville and therefore well aware of the special land use restrictions placed to protect naval aviation, I think folks on Whidbey should also support housing density.

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