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Eye On Olympia

Archive for September 2005

“These are our levees…”

“If the (2001) Nisqually earthquake had lasted a mere 15 seconds longer, the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle and S-R 520 (floating bridge) would have crumbled, and bridges all up and down the I-5 corridor would have been highly vulnerable. The loss of life could have been devastating, and the long-term economic impact crippling…These are our levees, and the earthquake is our hurricane. We are not going to be given a warning. You can’t see an earthquake coming.”

-Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, at a recent press conference. Washingtonians will vote in November whether to allow a new gas-tax increase, which would pay for millions of dollars in safety improvements to bridges, the Viaduct and the floating bridge.

Happy Halloween for Boeing and its suppliers…

First the machinists’ strike is settled and now this: on Oct 1, the state business tax for airplane makers and their parts suppliers will drop 12.5 percent.

The change is part of a slate of tax breaks and other assistance approved by lawmakers in 2003, as part of the state’s successful effort to ensure that Boeing assembles its next generation of jetliners here in Washington state.

The state will provide its second carrot in July 2007 — or sooner, if Boeing starts building the new planes here sooner — when tax rates will drop further, for a total reduction of 40 percent.

Gas tax increase not OK(lahoma), apparently…

In what state transportation officials hope is not a preview of November in Washington, Oklahoma voters have rejected a ballot measure to raise gas tax there from 17 cents a gallon to 22 cents.

In Oklahoma, as here, the money was slated to fix state roads and bridges. More than 80 percent of Oklahoma voters voted no, according to the Associated Press. The president of the group backing the measure told the AP that it was an uphill fight to pass higher taxes during gas prices that are already at record highs.

“…And finally, you do it for the money.”

It’s a bit startling to see a long list of newspapers, TV stations and radio stations listed on campaign finance reports as contributing thousands of dollars to www.nonewgastax.com, the group that’s trying to reverse the 9.5-cent gas tax increase lawmakers approved earlier this year.

According to the filings, The Spokesman-Review gave $1,250 in in-kind services to the effort. The Seattle Times, we’re told, contributed $4,000 worth of work. KREM TV, KHQ and KXLY, the reports say, donated $2,000 apiece. Even the Moscow-Pullman Daily News is listed as giving $250.

Some sort of anti-gas-tax plot by the media? Nope. The figures are the political group’s estimates of the worth of news stories about the initiative. Earlier this summer, a Thurston County Judge ordered Nonewgastax.com to report the airtime by two Seattle talk-radio hosts as a campaign contribution, since they spent days calling on listeners to donate money to the measure. That goes beyond news coverage and comment, the judge said, and becomes campaigning.

The group, however, said that there’s no clear line; that an editorial, for example, could be construed as campaigning. Apparently to prove their point, Nonewgastax.com listed every bit of news coverage they could find as an “in-kind contribution” to their efforts.


Not going to play the accountability game…

One phrase we’re hearing an awful lot of in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is “I’m not going to play the blame game.” Bush administration officials are turning to it to deflect criticism now, and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire uses it periodically in press conferences when asked who’s responsible for some problem.

As PR goes, it’s a great line. It’s like a “no comment,” but with the added benefit of both pooh-poohing the question and sounding high-minded. “You can engage in knee-biting if you wish,” it seems to say, “but I must get on with the running of the ship of state.”

Yeah, okay. The problem is that when government screws something up, someone usually is responsible. And although “not wanting to play the blame game” is an easy out for a tough question at a press conference, it does nothing to improve people’s trust in government. Because most people know exactly what would happen, for example, if they told a tax collector or state trooper that they didn’t want to “play the blame game.”

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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