Inside Opinion

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Tag: Proposition 1


Pierce Transit tax needs sunset, not a gerrymander

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Pierce Transit has a credibility problem with the citizens who live within its taxing district. It should solve that problem at home, not do an end run through the Legislature.

Twice in the last two years, the transit agency has put a sales tax proposal on the ballot only to see it shot down by voters. In November, the second measure came within a cat’s whisker of success, falling short by barely more than 700 votes.

That tiny margin demonstrated that the agency could win the revenues it needs to prevent a drastic cutback in bus service. But it would have to abandon its insistence that the tax be chiseled into stone in perpetuity.

Had last fall’s measure contained a reasonable sunset clause – requiring a new vote after, say, six years – there’s little question it would have passed.

All is not lost. Pierce Transit’s leaders could still secure passage of a new sales tax by holding the agency accountable through a future vote. But transit supporters are seeking to game the process in Olympia to avoid another reckoning with the district’s electorate.
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Get ballots in for Tacoma, Puyallup school bonds

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

For supporters of public schools in Tacoma and Puyallup, this is not a day for complacency.

Both school districts have critically urgent construction bonds on Tuesday’s ballot. Tacoma is trying to replace or renovate 14 worn-out schools, half dating to the 1920s or earlier. Puyallup is trying to expand or repair 11 schools, and move students out of its 220 portables, to easeovercrowding and handle rapidly rising enrollments.

Each measure would also pay for improvements across the district.

These bonds – $500 million for Tacoma, $279.6 million for Puyallup – are of utmost importance to public education in the two districts.

Tacoma voters, for example, haven’t approved school bonds since 2001.

A district with so many antiquated schools just can’t do its job without regular reinvestment.

A story in Thursday’s Seattle Times should correct any misconceptions that Puyallup or Tacoma are on a spending binge. It contrasted Seattle’s $695 million school funding plan with the Tacoma and Puyallup versions:

Measures on Tuesday’s ballot in Seattle and Tacoma would each fund dozens of construction projects over the next decade, with both districts focusing on rebuilding old elementary schools.

But while Tacoma officials are requesting about $30 million for each of the eight elementaries in their proposal, Seattle is seeking about $42 million apiece for the six it wants to build.

Compared with Seattle, Puyallup and Tacoma have relatively modest expectations. Consider building size.
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Yes on Prop 1: Modern schools for Tacoma’s students

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

A few dates will tell you why Tacoma must keep investing in its school buildings –
and why its Feb. 12 bond measure needs passing.

The Tacoma School District is both old and very large, with 28,000 students in 53 schools. At any point in time, it has a cohort of vintage buildings slipping into decrepitude.

The district once kept its buildings renovated with periodic bond measures supported by the city’s taxpayers. But bond proposals in 2006 and 2009 failed to win the necessary 60 percent of the vote.

In 2010, voters did approve a $140 million capital levy – which required only 50 percent approval – to reconstruct two middle schools and an elementary, and tackle urgent projects across the district. But that measure didn’t come remotely close to keeping Tacoma’s schools in timely repair.

The age of the schools to be replaced under Proposition 1 demonstrates the need.

Washington Elementary was built in 1906 – 107 years ago.

Grant Elementary was built in 1919; Wainright Elementary in 1922; Arlington, McCarver and Lyon elementaries in 1924. They date to the age of ink wells, biplanes and the Model T. They must be rebuilt for the digital 21st century.

Hunt Middle School and Wilson High date to 1957 and 1958, respectively – more than a half-century ago. Wilson was half-modernized with the 2001 bonds; Proposition 1 would finish the job for $40 million.

This isn’t just a matter of replacing old bricks and mortar with new bricks and mortar. At a certain point, old schools just can’t accommodate modern education.
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Yes on Prop 1 – because transit is a necessity for all

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

At the heart of Proposition 1 – the transit measure on the Pierce County ballot – is a question: What kind of community do we want?

Prop 1 would impose a 0.3 percent sale tax increase (3 cents on a $10 purchase) within the transit district, which encompasses most of the county’s urban areas. The revenues would keep the system from rolling off a cliff with many of the county’s neediest citizens on board.

Most of Pierce Transit’s income comes from the 0.6 percent sales tax it already collects. But sales tax revenues continue to falter as economic recovery eludes the South Sound. At the same time, a recent downsizing of the transit district’s boundaries will cost the agency another $8 million a year.

Pierce Transit has already cut its bus and paratransit runs by roughly 40 percent. Without additional revenue, it expects to cut what remains by a crippling 53 percent.

Those aren’t just numbers on a page – they are human beings who depend on the bus to get to jobs, stores, school and doctor appointments.

Many don’t have any reliable alternative. The agency’s surveys indicate that 56 percent of its riders have household incomes of less than $20,000; they include the poorest of the poor. Close to half – 45 percent – do not have working vehicles.

Many have grave disabilities and depend on specially equipped paratransit vans. Paratransit service only extends along existing bus routes; when a route disappears, so do the vans.
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Proposition 1: A seamless, modern 911 system

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Suggestion: Read the article below, written by the Pierce County sheriff and a leader of the county’s fire commissioners.

Done? Now you know why The News Tribune’s editorial board is endorsing Proposition 1, which would enact a tenth-of-one-percent sales tax to create a seamless, countywide, all-digital 911 dispatch system. This would add a penny to a $10 purchase.

Proposition 1 would fix two big, interrelated problems that have long plagued the county’s police officers and firefighters – and the citizens who depend on them.

Problem One is the county’s fragmented, patchwork system of dispatch agencies. Many counties have one or two dispatch centers that handle all emergency calls: This creates greater efficiencies and economies, with modern GPS and digital mapping technologies letting dispatchers rapidly direct first responders to emergencies.

But turf wars among agencies and local jurisdictions have saddled Pierce County with an antiquated multiplicity of agencies and centers. Four separate “primary call centers” handle 911 calls, which in turn relay all fire and emergency medical calls to two additional centers run by fire departments.

Problem One led to Problem Two. Over the years, the fragmented agencies have bought different kinds of radio equipment – mostly analog systems that are now obsolete – that don’t always talk to each other and sometimes (in dead spots) don’t talk at all. Below, Paul Pastor and Larry Nelson spell out some of the tragic and near-tragic consequences.
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Prop. 1 – to preserve Tacoma’s parks

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

When you’ve invested a fortune in beautiful and popular parks, you don’t let them fall apart. That’s a compelling reason to vote yes for Proposition 1 on Tacoma’s April 27 ballot.

For a city its size, Tacoma has one of the most spectacular park systems in the nation.

Point Defiance alone – with its zoo, aquarium, marina, heart-stopping views and expanses of old growth forest – would be a crown jewel in any American city. Then there’s Ruston Way, with two miles of promenades, beaches, fishing, picnic spots and panoramic views on the Commencement Bay waterfront.

But the system only begins with those two gems. Metro Parks operates a total of 66 parks throughout Tacoma. Some are small, many are large; they include more than 40 soccer, football and baseball fields; four pools; more than 40 playgrounds; six community centers. They encompass 2,700 acres.

The parks host traditional league sports and community events – but also provide essential social services. A playground drop-in program serves federally subsidized free lunches to low-income children who might otherwise go hungry. After-school “clubs” offer organized activities and field trips. Hundreds of people with disabilities participate in the Special Recreation Program.

It takes serious money to maintain this much real estate and provide these services. But with inflation rising, Metro Parks’ revenues – squeezed by Initiative 747’s 1 percent cap on property taxes – have been falling relative to costs.

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