MAKING IT WORK
June 3, 2004, Volume VI, Issue 5
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide
information, inspire involvement, and make things work
in this great city.
FAMILIES AND EDUCATION LEVY PROPOSAL
ALASKA WAY VIADUCT DRAFT EIS
QUOTE AND DEEP THOUGHT
FAMILIES AND EDUCATION LEVY PROPOSAL
The City Council plans to vote by early July on a package to recommend to the voters for renewal of the Families and Education Levy. This levy complements the work of the School District by supporting efforts to ensure that children are healthy and ready for school. The levy cannot, by itself, improve academic performance -- that is the responsibility of the School District, which spends many times more money than this levy, and has the primary accountability to the voters for academic outcomes. For that reason, I do not support evaluating the levy by test scores or other academic performance measurements.
A simple renewal of the previous levy plus inflation would be $80 million, while the Mayor has proposed a seven-year $106 million levy. This increase is actually less than the $114 million the Citizens Advisory Group advocated. While I support the Mayor's proposal to increase funding, I favor amendments to add additional funding, particularly to address concerns raised by many organizations and individuals about major changes from the previous levy.
Among the organizations raising issues are the School District, PTSA, and Teacher's Union. Since the success of the Families and Education Levy must be a cooperative endeavor involving the City and all of those organizations, I take their concerns very seriously. These and other community groups and individuals are concerned about eliminating the Middle School Support Program that includes counseling and truancy/dropout prevention, reducing funding for family support workers and school nurses, moving child care support and Family Centers to the City's General Fund, allocating family support funding to community based organizations instead of the School District, and reducing funding over time for Teen Health Clinics by getting reimbursements from Medicare and private health insurance.
I have already decided to support adding an annual inflation adjustment to the family support worker program and restoring the Middle School Support Program.
Although the School District initially consented to reducing the Family Support Workers from 52 to 47, they are now expressing concern, and I will consider restoring the five positions. I have similar concerns about the proposed reduction from 11 levy-supported school nurse positions to 7. While the School District funds about 50 other school nurse positions, and in principle it may be appropriate to phase out Levy support, the current financial condition of our public education system, suggests that the City may need to continue funding these positions.
I am also skeptical about the proposal to move childcare subsidies and Family Support Center funding to the City's general fund. With the acute pressures on the general fund as a result of the economic downturn and the passage of statewide initiatives limiting the City's tax resources (with another one pending for this fall), what may be a good policy to unify the funding sources for particular programs may not be a good choice in the real world of the City's budget. I plan to consider retaining these programs in the Levy.
While I am sympathetic to the concerns of community based organizations that many families are more likely to turn to community organizations than the schools for support, I also believe that schools should be a center for community-based family involvement. For this reason, I cannot support the Mayor's proposal to fund only community-based organizations for this service, but would like to find a way to fund both school-based and community-based programs, potentially by increasing the amount of funding.
Finally, while again in principle it is a good idea to try to recover health costs from Medicare and private insurers, the proposal includes $150,000 in administrative costs to recover $500,000 in reimbursements. This is the kind of action that drives the devastating increases in health care costs, and I would rather not have us be part of the problem.
Adding all of these would increase the Levy by about $40 million over the seven years. As the Council reviews proposed changes, we must make a difficult decision about the level of funding the public will support. My perception is that Seattle voters are committed to the long-term support of families and education, and are likely to vote for a larger funding package if it is well justified. I therefore hope to add all or most of these programs, but I will continue to weigh this balance as we deliberate over the next month.
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ALASKA WAY VIADUCT DRAFT
On June 1 I submitted comments on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). My principle concern is that the proposed alternatives all assume replacing a current facility that is used below its capacity with a level of efficiency and capacity that greatly exceeds current or future use projections. Given the very high demand for transportation funding for a myriad of other projects, investing this level of resources in this corridor must be assessed against other priorities. Ensuring the current free flow of traffic on State Route 99 in 2030 may preclude easing congestion on Interstate 5, State Route 520, or other key corridors, or investing in transit that can mitigate traffic on several corridors. This may be a luxury that the region cannot afford.
The Alaskan Way Viaduct project is required not because of traffic congestion or transportation bottlenecks on the current facility, but because it is not safe. For this reason, the goal of the project should be to provide safe transportation alternatives, in an economical and environmentally sound manner. The current corridor is located on fill and is inherently unstable. Changing traffic patterns to more stable environments can be less costly, minimize risk, and offer alternatives in the event of roadway failure in the near future.
All of these considerations suggest that a broad corridor should be investigated, including not merely the existing facility but the entire downtown area as far east as I-5, to allow consideration of options that can divert traffic from the current facility.
The engineering approach to the surface alternative appears designed to make it fail as an option. More promising designs must be explored to provide an appropriate analysis of a surface option, based on a 4-lane configuration on the surface and a holistic approach to the whole downtown transportation system. A viable surface option with other system improvements may be the most financially achievable alternative, with the least impacts in construction. The tunnel alternative is also somewhat misnamed, since it assumes an aerial structure over the front of the Pike Place Market, descending from the Bell Street tunnel until it dives into a tunnel in the middle of the waterfront.
While the promise of a liberated waterfront has been held out as the possible result of a tunnel project, the realities have yet to be fully assessed. No one has developed a credible scenario for finding $4 billion; even this number assumes no cost overruns, which most megaprojects experience. We have yet to grasp the impact on the City of the EIS's projected 24-hour construction for a period of 7.5 to 11 years. This EIS may only be the starting point for serious deliberation on the future of State Route 99.
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EIS VEHICLE IMPOUNDMENT
On Monday, May 24, the City Council voted 6 to 2 to modify Seattle's impound law to eliminate vehicle impoundments for DWLS-3 drivers. While I support the impoundment of vehicles for drivers who present a significant safety hazard (DWLS-1 and 2, persons whose licenses have been suspended for major moving violations or unsafe driving), I voted for this legislation.
DWLS-3 drivers have had licenses taken away for failing to pay fines for minor vehicle or traffic infractions. While these drivers should be required to comply with the law, it has become clear over the last five years that impoundment of their vehicles is a disproportionate response that is particularly hard on low-income persons. In addition, the records kept on these offenses are often not current or accurate, leading to the penalty of impoundment being exacted in error. Experience has demonstrated that the model in place in King County, where drivers pay off fines over time and go through relicensure, has been a very successful alternative.
I do not support either sending DWLS-3 drivers to jail, or ignoring their violations. There is no "right to drive," and anyone who violates the law should have to come into compliance. Impoundment was originally proposed as an alternative to those two extremes. However, after a couple years of experience with the impoundment program, it became apparent that there were numerous flaws in the system. Persons with means can pay their tickets and pay to get cars out of impoundment; poor people had a much harder time, and impoundment too often resulted in the loss of a car - a loss that can be especially acute for persons who are working the kinds of jobs that are most available for low-income residents.
In addition, cars were being impounded in situations where the driver did not own the car, where tickets had been paid but the records had not been updated, where licenses had been suspended in error, and in other problematic situations. To try to remedy this, I proposed a series of amendments to the impoundment ordinance when it was renewed in 2000 that addressed some of these situations. I have concluded that these provisions failed to adequately resolve the underlying problems. Courts have also ruled that there were continuing problems with impoundment practices.
The City has made some progress in addressing the issue through a program that suspends penalties while time payments and other approaches to restoring valid licenses are pursued. The County program, which does not rely on impoundment, has been even more successful, and I will join my colleagues in encouraging the courts and City Attorney to emulate the County model. The City must also find a way to replace impoundment and safeguard its citizens from the estimated 15 to 25 percent of drivers whom the County model cannot successfully address, and I will encourage the City to work with the legislature to find something to replace impoundment for these remaining problem drivers.
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"The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped."
-- Hubert Humphrey
"Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain insolvent."
-- John Maynard Keynes
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