January 15, 2009 in Washington Voices

Spokane outshines West Side retailers

Richard Roesler Staff writer
 

OLYMPIA – Here’s a little mantra for Spokane-area retailers to chant: “Well, at least we’re not Seattle.”

Or Tacoma.

Or Bellevue.

Or Everett.

Shops in all those places, state Department of Revenue data suggests, had a much harder time than Spokane in the third quarter of last year, the most recent time for which the numbers are available.

Spokane, in fact, was the only major city in the state where retail trade actually rose.

True, it only rose a bit over 1 percent. But look at Everett, where it’s down 11 percent. Or Bellevue, down 12 percent.

Tired of waiting

Unlike most states, Washington doesn’t really have an Election Night. Instead, we have an Election Week. In very close races like the John Driscoll/John Ahern Statehouse race this past fall, it takes weeks to figure out who won. (Driscoll.)

This is largely because Washington allows mail voters to cast ballots on Election Day. As long as they have that postmark on them, they’re valid even if it takes a week or more to show up in the mailbox at a county elections office.

Enough, says the state’s top elections official. Secretary of State Sam Reed wants state lawmakers to do what some other states do: require the ballots to get to election offices by Election Day. Oregon does this.

“We constantly hear complaints from voters, campaigns, the parties and the media about how long it takes to process the votes,” Reed said recently. “In this day of instant-everything, people want to know on Election Night who won. That clearly is impossible in many cases, because half of the ballots are still in the mail or have not been tabulated.”

Mail voting is clearly here to stay. By next month, 38 of the state’s 39 counties will vote almost entirely by mail. Nine out of 10 Washingtonians vote by mail already.

Putting his money where his mouth is

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman told supporters recently that he’s borrowing $50,000 more against the value of his home to bankroll an early start for his latest anti-tax measure.

That’s on top of the $175,000 he says he still owes for last fall’s unsuccessful Initiative 985.

Deficit spending? By the man who makes his living urging Olympia to live within its means?

“Don’t even go there,” he responded.

Eyman said the new money is crucial for an early launch for this year’s measure, which would hold state and local tax hikes to the rate of inflation unless voters OK more.

CNN’s continuing quest to become The Onion

Actual headlines on the world leader in news’ home page late one night last week:

•“Woman says knife left in head 3 years”

•“A nod to cute things falling asleep”

•“World’s oldest person credits bacon,” and

•“Joe the Plumber heading to Gaza.”

Really.

The return of Don Cox?

Former state Rep. Don Cox, a Republican from Colfax, may be headed back to the statehouse.

Cox, 69, who stepped down two years ago in order to spend more time with his family, is local GOP officials’ top pick of three replacements for late state Rep. Steve Hailey, R-Mesa. Cox served from 1999 through 2005 in the statehouse. He gained a reputation as a soft-spoken rural conservative and an expert on education.

Hailey, who’d been battling colon cancer for the past year, died recently.

The other contenders include attorney and retired Spokane detective Jeff Holy, who lives in Cheney, and Hans “Jochen” Engelke, a farmer from Mesa. The sprawling 9th district covers the Palouse and much of southeastern Washington.

Giant mechanical worm to solve Viaduct impasse

After years of chin-pulling and line-in-the-sand drawing, the governor, King County executive, Seattle’s mayor and the CEO of the Port of Seattle have agreed to replace Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a “deep bored tunnel” under Seattle’s downtown. The $4.2 billion plan also includes more bus service, improvements to side streets, an upgraded waterfront and a new seawall.

“There are privotal moments when great cities make history,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who battled Gregoire’s plan to replace the view-blocking viaduct with another one.

By boring a tunnel and sending traffic underground, Nickels says, Seattle will “reclaim our destiny as a true waterfront city … reconnecting Seattle to Elliott Bay.”

Gregoire has pledged $2.8 billion toward the project, which she hopes will pay for the two-mile-long, four-lane tunnel and converting the land under the soon-to-be-demolished Viaduct into a four-lane street.

But reaction from some lawmakers was lukewarm. Senate budget writers, for one thing, had only planned on spending $2.4 billion on the project.

And powerful House Speaker Frank Chopp said he’s worried about the potential for cost overruns.

“This plan already requires at least $1.8 billion in additional taxes from Seattle and King County residents,” he said in a statement when the deal was announced by the governor’s office. “Will they also be on the hook for the overruns? Boston’s ‘Big Dig’ was estimated to cost $4 billion. It ended up costing many billions more.”

And so it begins

On the opening day of the 2009 legislative session Monday, Sen. Jim Hargrove noted that Lt. Gov. Brad Owen recently knighted by Spain has grown a beard that leans heavily to gray. Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, thanked Owen for saving the state money by obviously forsaking both razors and hair dye.

Owen, who acts as president of the Senate, was not amused.

“The president would hope that you would continue doing what you’ve been doing in the interim,” Owen responded, “and saving us money by not eating so much.”

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at richr@spokesman.com.

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