Choose your battles wisely

I saw a facebook post that was encouraging overturning of I-200 (the voter-approved initiative which prohibits affirmative action and similar racial preferences). I support over-turning I-200 but that’s not my highest priority. My highest priorities are economic inequality and environmental justice.

As I commented on the post, many people think the bill is of mixed benefit, all things considered. Specifically, overturning I-200 risks alienating some voters who progressives need on other issues. I know a Chinese lady who voted for Trump because, she said, her son was at a disadvantage getting into an Ivy League school because of affirmative action. I don’t think she is a racist.

Do we fight about identity politics? Or do we fight about economic and environmental justice? Or both?

Our resources and political capital are limited. So, yes, I support overturning I-200. Given a choice between spending political capital on that bill and spending it on other issues, what’s the best choice?

We have legalized marijuana and gay marriage — which are good to have. But Washington State have the most regressive tax system in the nation, and I want our legislators to tackle that issue, which is a foundation for so much more that we want: education, public transit, an adequate social safety net, housing, environmental stewardship, and guaranteed health care for all.

I’m pro-life: in favor of Medicare for all, a healthy environment, and gun control

I’m pro-life for adults and for later-term fetuses, but I’m pro-choice for early-term fetuses.  However, it seems that many conservative Americans are pro-life only for fetuses but not so much for children and adults.

Real pro-life includes everyone, not just fetuses. So, I’m in favor of government-guaranteed medical care for everyone.  And I’m in favor of stringent environmental regulations.

Here are some links about how harmful auto and truck traffic are to human health.

Many daycare centers and schools are dangerously close to busy roads.
http://www.invw.org/series/exhausted-at-school/

Living near highways bad for lungs
http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/air-pollution/highways.html

Living close to a major roadway could increase dementia, study says
http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/04/health/dementia-risk-living-near-major-road/index.html

Roads are harmful to pregnant women
http://envhealthcenters.usc.edu/infographics/infographic-living-near-busy-roads-or-traffic-pollution/references-living-near-busy-roads-or-traffic-pollution

Road pollution associated with increased breast cancer
https://nypost.com/2017/04/06/the-roads-you-live-near-affect-the-health-of-your-boobs/

Road pollution bad for heart health
https://news.heart.org/living-near-busy-roads-may-bad-heart-patients-health/

Then there are the indisputable negative effects of carbon pollution on the climate change.

Employers should stop subsidizing free parking by employees

The Bellevue Planning Commission has recently suggested encouraging employers to stop subsidizing free parking by employees.   The intention is to incentivize people to  use public transportation and other alternatives to commuting by car.   The benefits would be clear: less traffic congestion, less pollution, and a more pleasant environment.

As expected, there’s a posting on nextdoor.com calling on Bellevue residents to stop the proposed plan.  The posting encourages reader to email council members and to express their opposition to the increased parking fees.

One person said that the proposed fees would be an economic hardship on working families.

Yes, the policy to charge for parking will hit everyone, but employers have the option of paying higher salaries. Also, that argument (“It will hit working families”) can be used to oppose almost any regulation that protects people via an economic incentives. Safety regulations on cars, planes, food, and a myriad of goods result in higher prices, but those higher prices are needed to reflect the hidden costs and external costs (e.g., pollution) from the goods and services.  Countries worldwide are moving towards green economies less dependent on fossil fuels.  Our lives and communities need to be reconfigured to reflect the necessary trade-offs.

A similar proposal in 2015 was scrapped because of concerns that drivers would park at malls and would disrupt local businesses.

Since heavy traffic is detrimental to our health and quality of life, it is indeed desirable to make incentives for people to use public transportation and other alternatives to cars. Google “air pollution health” and you’ll find many scary scientific articles about how bad auto pollution is to the lungs of people living near freeways. Do you like sitting in traffic and breathing toxic exhaust? Are you OK with making nearby residents and workers breathe it?

Bipartisan attack on ST3 funding threatens light-rail extensions

(April 20, 2017) — The Legislature is wrapped up in discussions about how to fund (or not fund) K-12 education. But if you look under the covers, you will see that these very same elected representatives and senators are intent on defunding Sound Transit 3. Instead of simply abiding by the voters’ approval of the tax increases necessary to fund mass transit in the Puget Sound area, they are engaging in a bipartisan attack on the election results.

Last November, we approved Sound Transit 3, with more than 54 percent support for the taxes necessary to build out our light rail system. To finance this, voters ratified Sound Transit’s financing plan, which increases property taxes by $25 per $100,000 in assessed value, hikes sales taxes by one half of one percent, and increases annual car-tab fees by about $80 for a vehicle valued at $10,000.

That money will enable Sound Transit to complete a 108-mile light rail network from Everett to Tacoma. By 2040, Sound Transit and its regional transit partners, including Community Transit, will carry more than 200 million passengers, with seven out of 10 trips made by rail, most of those by light rail. That is the key, because light rail is dependable, doesn’t get stuck in traffic, and takes you to where you want to go, or at least close by!

During the campaign, Sound Transit was completely transparent about the taxes. We all knew that our car tabs would increase a lot in 2017 to help fund Sound Transit. So when the first invoices arrived, the vast majority of people just paid their tabs. But a vocal minority, with big tabs from expensive cars, took their displeasure to Olympia, hoping that the Legislature would listen to their stories and disregard the will of the people.

Now we have a bipartisan attack on Sound Transit, with both Republicans and Democrats offering proposals for defunding.  The Republicans in the Senate are straightforward. One bill, sponsored by Sen. Dino Rossi (R-Sammamish), would allow cities and counties to opt out of all Sound Transit taxes. With this one bill, the Republicans enable any city to pull itself out of Sound Transit, regardless of how its citizens benefit. Free rides for all! This bill also appears to be a moneymaker for Tim Eyman, as it enables local initiatives to void all taxes paying for Sound Transit.

In this context, the Democrats’ proposal in the House of Representatives doesn’t look so bad. But it is not good. It, too, undermines the vote of the people last year and the financing necessary for building out Sound Transit.  Twenty Democrats in the House of Representatives endorsed the Sound Transit 3 ballot initiative. Now they are proposing to lower car tabs for motorists who have bought cars recently, and especially for those who have bought the most expensive cars. This is what is considered “providing fair tax relief for motorists.”

Do Democrats think they can win votes from the complainers who do not want to pay their car tabs for Sound Transit? The Democratic proposal does not roll back car tabs to where they were last year. So if you are going to complain, you will complain about your car tab increase whether it is $100 or $200 or $300.

One owner stated that he was billed three times as much as what he paid last year. His total bill was $406. Under the Democrats’ bill, it will be around $275. He won’t like that either.

But let’s stick with the law as approved by the voters. $406 sounds like a lot. Now consider his vehicle: a 2010 Range Rover, with a sticker price of more than $76,000. If he can afford a car that is valued at twice the total annual earnings of typical workers in our state, then he can afford his car tabs. They cost him $1.11 a day.

Under the Democrats’ bill, if passed, car tabs for this fellow would be 75 cents a day. He would save 36 cents a day and Sound Transit would lose 36 cents a day. That’s not much, but you add together all these reductions, and Sound Transit loses $780 million in car tab fees. This will result in a total loss of $2 billion over 25 years, a loss of 4 percent of the total budget for Sound Transit 3, worth about four miles of light rail track.

Perhaps the light rail to Everett would end at Paine Field. You could take a taxi to downtown!

 

Originally published at The Stand.

Report on Standing Rock

[Copied from my post on George Takei’s fb page. This needs to be shared and understood WIDELY, and edited to make readable paragraphs]

….Please forgive the long post. I camped at Standing Rock for three weeks, mid-August to the 9th of September.

A great deal about this situation isn’t being covered by the media. Even those who are well-meaning, like Mark Ruffalo, aren’t getting the following factual information out there. The conversation keeps sliding off into the suffering of the Lakota- another subject that deserves scrutiny- but the dangers of this pipeline need to be addressed- WHY THEY ARE FIGHTING.

I suspect the story would significantly shift if more Americans understood what is at stake. SO – hence the long post.

Bakken Crude is more corrosive than other crudes. It’s also much more radioactive, and higher in methane and propane as well as poisonous compounds.

When this crude first starts travelling through the substandard, cheap-out construction, it will begin eating away at the metal. As crude travels through a pipeline, it is heated by friction and pressure. Methane and propane expand when heated.

The scale [mineral deposits] that forms on the interior of the pipe will be highly radioactive- the kind of radiation that causes cancer in bone and blood.

So WHEN the pipeline leaks or breaks- as it has already done in the places where it’s operational- its million-gallons-an-hour of toxic, radioactive sludge will spill out into the environment, poisoning earth, air , and water [edit to add: and the cleanup efforts, such as they are, will be on the taxpayers, not the corporations].

The pipeline crosses more than 2000 lakes, streams, and rivers [the Missouri, twice], and is at the headwaters of the fourth largest watershed in the world- Seventeen MILLION people get their drinking water there, and the Oglala Aquifer- irrigation source for the Breadbasket of the World- is fed from the same source.

We’re talking about a disaster that will easily rival the Exxon Valdez- but at the center of the water supply for the entire central US. Meanwhile, the crude is going to be refined in Illinois and then SHIPPED OVERSEAS. It’s been documented.

Behind the fight is a nepotistic state government whose cash cow is being threatened by these pesky brown people, after they refused to put the pipeline in in Bismarck as IT COULD THREATEN THEIR WATER SUPPLY.

And the pipeline was originally going to go through Minnesota, but got fought down there [because their regulation system isn’t a JOKE]. /thanks, again, sorry for the longgg post.” ….

“…Additionally- and equally- no, MORE- important- the Lakota have a prophecy of a Black Snake that will come in the seventh generation to destroy the world, unless the people fight it.

This is- now- the seventh generation. The people there are there because they LITERALLY BELIEVE that they must fight this thing in order to SAVE THE WORLD.

This is a deeply spiritual fight for them. They are in continual prayer and spend all of their time walking in Spirit.

The reason more than 300 tribes have joined them- from all over the world, not just the US- and are building solidarity for future endeavors, thanks be to the Divine- is that the prophecy is well-known.

This is not a small thing. This is the biggest thing that has happened in a very long time, and it is the beginning of a fundamental shift in power.

Let's use I-732 (revenue-neutral carbon tax swap) to beat I-1366 (Eyman's 2/3 super-majority blackmail)

There’s a simple way to beat Tim Eyman and his initiative I-1366. At the same time we’ll help the environment, and, optionally, raise revenue to fund schools.  And we can even do it in a revenue-neutral way, thereby making it palatable to Republicans.

By way of background, recall that if I-1366 passes — and early returns suggest that it will — one of three things must happen.

  1. The legislature must put before Washington State voters a constitutional amendment requiring a 2/3 super-majority of legislators in both the state House and the state Senate (or a majority of voters) to approve any tax increase or reduction in tax breaks; or
  2. The state sales tax must be lowered from 6.5% to 5.5%; or
  3. The state Supreme Court will have to rule that I-1366 is unconstitutional.

But I say there’s a simple solution to this problem, even if the State Supreme Court fails to rule I-1366 to be unconstitutional.

Let’s go ahead and lower the sales tax 1% but at the same raise taxes on carbon, capital gains, and/or income to make up the loss.

The tax on carbon will be similar to the effect of I-732 being (successfully) pushed by CarbonWA. One difference is that I-732’s tax would be revenue-neutral, whereas the current proposal allows, but doesn’t necessitate, revenue neutrality.

Because I-732 apparently has enough signatures to succeed, and because I-732 is an initiative to the legislature, the legislature will need to decide next year whether to impose a revenue-neutral tax on carbon. If they fail to act, a measure will appear on the ballot in 2016 to raise tax on carbon and lower the sales tax and the B&O tax in a revenue-neutral way. My point is: the legislature can use I-732 (or something similar) to neutralize I-1366.

But in addition to raising tax on carbon, we should raise taxes on capital gains and/or on income (with the first, say, $50,000 of income exempt from tax). These taxes would make Washington State’s tax system more fair and progressive. They’d lower tax on most people. After all, our state is said to have the most regressive tax system in the nation.

The voters are correct to be angry about high taxes! Most people are over-paying. What most people don’t understand is the reason their taxes are too high: because our tax system is regressive.

The net result of this proposal is that we’d satisfy the words of I-1366 — we’d lower the sales tax by 1%. But what’s great is that we’d also lower taxes on most people, help save the environment, and make our tax system more progressive.

Even if the tax shift is revenue-neutral — and that would be easier to pass in the legislature — the change will be a big win.

So, there should be no need to be afraid of I-1366 — if the legislature has the guts to do the right thing and if the people of Washington can be educated about what’s in their own self-interest.

The key is just that: educating the public. Will our political leaders show some leadership and help educate the citizens? And will we activists build an effective movement to help this happen? Until we educate the public on this issue, we will continue losing elections and initiatives.

I admit that Republicans in the legislature are unlikely to be reasonable about raising an income tax or capital gains tax. Most of them would be OK with public education failing and with homeless and sick people languishing on the streets. Conservatives will argue that the legislature mustn’t dare go against the will of the voters, who say by their votes that they do not want additional revenue. I have two answers to this.

First, if we make the change revenue-neutral, then the Republicans may agree. As CarbonWA has shown, many conservatives will agree to a revenue-neutral tax shift (for example, More and more conservative thinkers want to tax carbon. Will politicians and activists follow? and Why We Support a Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax). In fact, many lefty groups are opposed to I-732 because of its revenue-neutrality and because it was designed in consultation with people from the conservative Washington Policy Center. (See Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, Carbon-tax initiative divides environmentalists, and Why I decline to sign I-732).

Second, the voters are voting against their own self-interest and need to be educated as to why the current tax system is unfair and inadequate.

But we can beat I-1366 without raising revenue.

Stop voting against your own self-interest

Republicans raised taxes on the poor and the middle class

Governor Inslee on our unfair, regressive tax system

Note: This article was previously published under the name Hell, yeah! Let’s lower the sales tax 1% — and raise taxes on carbon, capital gains and/or income.

The "Poison Pill" and the Carbon Tax

The transportation bill passed by the Washington State Senate contains an infamous “poison pill” provision that would move public transit and other multi-modal funding to the roads account if the state passes a low carbon fuel standard. (See http://www.thestand.org/2015/03/fix-fatal-flaws-in-transportation-package/ for background.)

The poison pill was inserted by State Senate Republicans to please the Koch Brothers and other fossil fuel industry backers of the GOP, as well as to stymie Governor Inslee’s green energy agenda.

Late last month, Governor Inslee agreed to existence of the poison pill as a condition for getting a deal made.

But the state House needs to agree on identical language. So far, some progressive House members are refusing to accept the poison pill, while some Republican House members are refusing to go along with the 11.7 cent rise in the gas tax.  See Solving or At Least Understanding the Gridlock in Olympia for details.

(By the way, the budget and transportation package agreed to by the Senate raise taxes on the poor and the middle class, while not raising taxes on the coddled rich.)

But if the poison pill is the only blocker for the progressives, perhaps they should relent, because there’s an excellent alternative that appears not to be subject to the poison pill. The revenue neutral carbon tax promoted by CarbonWA, with bipartisan support, is not a low carbon fuel standard and so apparently wouldn’t trigger the fund transfer.

CarbonWA and its supporters are gathering signatures for initiative I-732 that they hope will appear on the November, 2016 ballot.  There are many reasons why a carbon tax makes more sense than Cap and Trade or a Low Carbon Fuel Standard.