Q&A: Michael Noder, running for Spokane mayor
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
I believe I am best candidate because I am dedicated to reducing the size, cost and scope of government. I plan to reverse the rapidly growing costs and impositions of government on the lives and incomes of individual citizens.
2. What is your top priority and how specifically would you work to achieve your top priority?
Answer #1: Reduce the size, cost and scope of government.
Answer #2: End tax policies that reward government for increasing the overall cost of city utilities. Adopt free and near free digital information platforms that increase speed and clarity in the dissemination of city documents and information. Use an annual attrition rate of approximately 3 percent annually to reduce the total number of city employees. Possibly remove another 1-2 percent due to poor-performance or criminal conduct. Support opportunities for top performing employees to advance through expanded public and private sector opportunities. Create employee incentives for increasing tax and ratepayer value. Restate and re-task accounting reports and performance metrics so they are clearly understandable to the general public and our elected representatives.
How Spokane delivers city services and conducts governmental affairs, relative to the fundamentals of Constitutional government, is the primary determining factor in long-term, healthy economic growth.
BUDGET AND TAXES
3. Given the expected $7 million shortfall between the revenue the city expects in 2012 and the amount needed to maintain current services, should the city maintain a youth department? Should the city maintain an arts department? Should the city maintain a weights and measures department? Are there other city services that you would consider eliminating?
Answer #1: The city should not maintain a youth department. Schools, parks, neighborhood councils, charity organization and private sector initiatives are better suited to oversee such activities. I will consider city involvement with youth services in conjunction with the library system. Otherwise, I want youth services out of city government.
Answer #2: Arts should go with parks and be administered there when possible. I prefer private sector funding as opposed to taxpayer funding of the arts
Answer #3: Yes, the city should absolutely maintain a weights & measures department.
4. Do you support increasing hotel taxes to help balance the budget?
No, I support reducing and eventually eliminating this tax.
5. Spokane has one of the highest utility tax rates in the state. Would you consider implementing a local business and occupation tax, as many cities in western Washington have done, as a way to lower the utility tax or other city taxes?
No, I would consider lowering the cost of utilities and establishing a goal of eliminating the utility tax completely. The city should either provide a basic utility service or tax the service, but not both. Why would the city ever lower the cost of a utility service or the taxes added under the current incentive system?
6. Do you support collective bargaining rights of government employees?
No, collective bargaining is not a right, it is a power. I am personally against subverting the individual interests of union members to a collective; however, I view this as a decision of city employees. As mayor I represent the citizens, not the unions specifically, and will seek the best value proposition that I can for all citizens and ratepayers. I am concerned with the tendency of collective bargaining to make government services uncompetitive relative to private sector comparisons. I am even more concerned with the tendency of collective bargaining agreements to punish individual performance while rewarding the poor performance of others.
7. The city recently has lobbied the Legislature to amend state law regarding binding arbitration so that if contract negotiations stall between the city and a union representing firefighters or police officers, an arbitrator could consider additional factors when setting wages and benefits, such as a city’s ability to pay and to maintain a reserve fund. Do you support this change to state law?
I don’t like the state or the federal government telling us how to manage our affairs here in Spokane. If it is all the same with the city employees, I prefer we establish our own dispute resolution agreement. I am representing the citizens, not the unions specifically, but want and need city employees treated fairly.
I am going to gradually reduce the total number of city employees over time and do not plan to deliver all services in the same manner as in the past. Our city desperately needs to evolve and adapt to rapidly changing economic conditions. I understand how this threatens some jobs, but to ignore reality threatens many more jobs and future opportunities.
8. City officials increased sewer charges by 17 percent last year and predict more increases the next few years in large part to pay for nearly $650 million for projects required by the state to improve sewage treatment and prevent untreated sewage from spilling into the river. Do you support sewage fee increases that could top 10 percent in each of the next couple of years? If not, what would be your preferred alternative?
I would prefer to sue the State of Washington, for dumping unfunded mandates on us, but the mismanagement of city interests also appear to be a huge problem. I am disgusted with government engineered waste of taxpayer money. The improvements are providing marginal environmental gains. We clearly needed more capacity and steadily increasing environmental standards goes with upgrades, but we did not need $650 million worth of improvements. It is doubtful the final cost will stay this low.
I do not have an immediate answer to this economic black hole, but expect long-term utility bonds will be part of the solution/penalty. I will have to see clear and understandable financial statements before commenting much further on this unpleasant subject.
9. City leaders decided last year to change the city’s water rate structure to lower the rate paid by customers who use less and increase the rate paid by users of more water. Do you support this concept?
No. If the city is to be the sole provider of water to many of our citizens, it should be focusing on delivering this resource at the best price and in the safest manner possible.
10. Should the city continue to use the Waste-to-Energy Plant to dispose trash collected within Spokane?
Probably not, but will likely do so for a couple more decades. The WTE plant should not have been built at the current location for many environmental and safety reasons. The current cost of the city solid waste system is probably twice current market pricing for similar levels of service. The WTE plant is not an economically viable, long-term solution to the region’s solid waste needs, despite the millions our city and state government has spent to market and advertise otherwise.
11. Do you support tax incentives for historic renovation?. Do you support tax incentives for building condos and apartments downtown and in certain neighborhood centers?
Answer #1: No
Answer #2: No. I favor no individual or group with taxpayer revenue or credits.
12. Do you support the use of tax-increment financing?
No. I favor a uniform and predictable form of public financing. We should tax equally or not at all.
13. Many candidates are focused this campaign season on job creation. Should the city actively try to create jobs? If so, what should it do?
Answer #1: No
Answer #2: The role of city government is to ensure core utilities at the best value/price possible and to provide the governmental framework under which individuals and companies can live and prosper fairly. The job of getting a job is the job of the individual, not government.
Spokane should be attractive and enjoyable to individuals as a place to live and its government should be competent and competitive if we want to attract new businesses and investments to our community.
14. Where should the city allow the construction of large retail stores, such as Target or Walmart, within city limits?
I want these businesses located in the city so my fellow citizens don’t have to travel to other jurisdictions to shop and spend. I believe strongly in defending property rights; however, I respect and protect the greater community interests. I am likely to defer to the neighborhood councils directly impacted by the location or expansion of such businesses in our city. I encourage all would-be businesses that may locate in the Spokane area to engage immediate neighborhoods early and often regarding their specific growth plans.
I do not believe it is the government’s responsibility to create jobs, nor do I believe Spokane’s government should chase jobs away. If these stores want to locate here, we have people capable of running them.
15. Do you support the use of red light cameras? If so, do you support diverting ticket revenue from a fund for traffic safety projects to help balance the budget?
Answer #1:: Not under the current configuration.
Answer #2: I support sound traffic control management uninfluenced by revenue enhancement schemes, particularly those that primarily benefit private sector interests.
16. Do you support the decision to have a full-time police ombudsman? Do you believe that the ombudsman should have the authority to conduct independent investigations into alleged police misconduct?
Answer #1: Yes
Answer #2: Yes
17. Would you support a law, modeled after a law in Seattle, to make misdemeanor possession of marijuana by an adult the city’s lowest enforcement priority?
Yes. I don’t want these cases in the judicial system, but want law enforcement to have discretion when such activities appear to threaten the rights and liberties of other citizens. Driving under the influence or providing access to minors are examples of legitimate law enforcement interest in marijuana-related matters.
This can be a perplexing governmental matter, but Constitutional restraint is the only path that will reverse the massive economic incentives and chaos our drug laws contribute to.
18. The Spokane Fire Department’s goals for response times (arrive on scene within 8 minutes and 30 seconds 90 percent of the time) are significantly lower than standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (arrive on scene within 5 minutes 90 percent of the time). Given the city’s budget problems, do you have proposals to improve response times?
I would like emergency response units on the scene in under five minutes, and larger more expensive equipment, that is dangerous at high speeds, on scene in under ten minutes. The goal of the city is to save lives, everything else can and should be insured.
19. Given the recent finding of a bomb placed along the annual route of the Martin Luther King Jr. march in Spokane, what should be the role of the city’s Human Rights Commission?
Why are these two even related? One is criminal and is a matter to be handled by law enforcement and our judicial system.
The City of Spokane should operate at all times within the confines of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. In all of recorded history, humans arguably have never had more rights and liberties than we do under our Constitutional Republic.
LIBRARIES, PARKS AND ENVIRONMENT
20. Spokane’s library system offers significantly fewer hours than many of the 20 largest cities in Washington. Would you be willing to ask voters for a tax to boost this service as was requested earlier this year by the city library board?
Not likely. City library services need to evolve. The delivery of information services have been migrating rapidly to new platforms. I encourage the library board to recognize this changing knowledge field and to re-task existing assets to maximize informational value for the Spokane community.
21. Do you support closing the East Side or other branches to help balance the budget?
Probably not, I would prefer to try to lease such facilities along with research and IT support to start-ups and private sector initiatives, particularly those in the educational and information science fields.
22. A consultant hired by the city to review city services in 2006 said that the city was not investing enough in its urban forest. Should the city do more to plant and maintain street trees. If so, how?
Answer #1: My study says we have plenty of trees.
Answer #2: We are not going to abandon our trees, will maintain and probably expand our urban forest. Citizens enjoy trees, so we will protect or replace them during the normal course of our community’s evolution. Those that want more trees are free to support this cause, but this is not automatically an obligation of city government. (I am against raising water rates and taxes on those that seek to expand our urban forest.)
23. Do you support the sustainability plan promoted by Mayor Mary Verner, which was adopted by the Spokane City Council in 2010? Do you support the decision of former Mayor Dennis Hession to sign the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement?
Answer #1: No
Answer #2: No. Spokane’s reputation for green-cleaning and eco-fraud appears well deserved. The city should conserve and steadily seek improved efficiencies in all of its operations; however, I have little confidence in the economic or scientific case for binding subsequent administrations to poorly defined sustainability objectives that lack clearly understood economic impacts.
24. Some nearby cities have crafted restrictions for watering lawns during certain hours. Would you support instituting similar rules in Spokane?
Not at the present time, but have little doubt the citizens would cooperate in such a manner should the need arise.
25. Most city officials say that the street department has not been adequately funded to properly maintain city streets once they are reconstructed. This year, the City Council approved a $20 vehicle tab tax to boost street funding. Do you support this decision? If not, would you support a change in state law to allow the city to create a street utility fee that would be charged on city trash and water bills?
Answer #1: No
Answer #2: No
26. The city has nearly completed the projects it promised voters in the 2004 street bond. Would you support asking voters for a new street bond of a similar or greater scope? If so, should the bond include money to pay for sidewalks, bike lanes, street trees or other street improvements besides pavement from “curb-to-curb?”
Answer #1: Yes
Answer #2: Yes, but specific tree or bike programs associated with road projects must be dealt with on a case-by-case method and must involve the neighborhoods that are impacted. Some of the recently added bike lanes are dangerous and are located on busy thoroughfares. We want commuting bikers in corridors with fewer cars and not on heavy traffic arterials where safety threats can escalate quickly and dramatically.
27. Do you support asking voters for a sales tax to build a streetcar or trolley system in central Spokane?
28. Where should the city install bike lanes? Would you be willing to support the installation of a bike lane on a street if the city engineer determined that doing so could cause an intersection to earn a “failing” rating for car traffic congestion?
Answer #1: I believe we should establish bicycle corridors where there is less auto traffic. Individual neighborhoods should ultimately decide the bike routes through their immediate communities.
Answer #2: I will use road money to mitigate certain intersections that earn a failed rating when we must migrate both cars and bicycles through heavily shared spaces.
Automobile drivers do not want to run over bicycles and appreciate traffic designs that lessen such a risk. Keeping bikes and cars apart is superior to most other proposals involving bicycling in our city.
29. State leaders have said that local funding may be needed to pay to finish the North Spokane Freeway. Do you support the completion of the North Spokane Freeway south of Francis Avenue to Interstate 90? If so, would you be willing to support local taxes, fees or tolls for the freeway?
Answer #1: I have no problem paying for our share of infrastructure improvements that benefit our community directly.
Answer #2: I reserve comment on funding solutions until I have reviewed the projected costs and have consulted engineering reports. I suspect we can get it done, but I make no offer of support at this specific time.
30. Current plans for the North Spokane Freeway call for its interchange with Interstate 90 to expand I-90 to about 20 lanes wide, including onramps and service roads, in a portion of the East Central Neighborhood. Do you support this configuration?
Answer: Probably. We have taken out hundreds, possibly thousands of residential housing stock to accommodate this infrastructure project, by we I mean the State of Washington. It is a little late to be objecting to something approaching the last stages of a decades-long construction schedule. This project is probably designed to accommodate a century or more of growth at the interchange. If it accommodates long-term regional growth, alleviates congestion, increases road safety and lowers the long-term transportation impacts on citizens, I will probably support it.