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Friday, April 3, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Gary Crooks: Run government like government

A couple of letter writers said that if Spokane City Council members were going to get pay raises, they should also be subject to performance reviews. This is another in a long line of suggestions for running government like a business.

(Note that the business analogy ends when discussing executive pay. Average CEO compensation at large firms was $16.3 million in 2014. Nobody thinks this is what the leader of the free world should be paid, let alone the mayor of Spokane.)

Performance reviews don’t work for politicians because positive outcomes are in the eye of the beholder. For instance, a council member could tout additional bike lanes, but you may hate bike lanes.

In business, the bottom line is profits. In government, it’s delivering services or eliminating services, depending on your political leanings.

How about potholes? Well, all politicians want them filled, but the backlog is enormous, thanks to the inaction of previous councils and mayors. It’s unfair to put that squarely on the shoulders of current officeholders. The best you can expect is for the city to grind away at the problem, and it has.

I have the street maintenance reports if you doubt the progress. Or just try driving around these days without encountering a detour. Or should we blame politicians for those, too?

YES ON POTHOLES? Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan had an eloquent response to a question about using tax dollars to fund public transportation.

“No. No. And hell no,” he said.

Nonetheless, the council approved the measure, which would pave the way for the city to go it alone if the Spokane Transit Authority board votes against putting a sales tax request on the ballot for a second time. If that were the case, the city would run its own ballot measure to improve bus service and operate the Central City Line, a transit option that would connect Browne’s Addition to the University District and Spokane Community College.

The sales tax request would probably be two-tenths of a percent. A ballot measure seeking three-tenths of a percent failed by about 500 votes countywide, but 54 percent of voters within the city said yes.

Fagan said he’s concerned money used for street maintenance would be diverted to transit and that car tab fees could increase. That’s not the plan, Council President Ben Stuckart said. The local $20 car tab fee would still go toward street maintenance, or it could be eliminated if a sales tax measure passed. Either way, spending on pothole filling, crack sealing and other repairs would not diminish. Plus, there is still the street bond account for larger projects, which voters have approved twice.

However, if a statewide initiative to restore $30 car tabs were to pass, it would empty the Transportation Benefit District’s street maintenance account. Initiative 1421 would remove local authority to tack on a fee, such as the annual $20 charge.

I-1421 is in the signature-gathering phase. It is the brainchild of Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan and Councilman Fagan.

THE PROPOSITION. If confronted with I-1421 on the ballot, how would you vote? Yes on $30 car tab fees, regardless of an automobile’s year, value, make or model? If so, what about the potholes?

Please email me a reply – and a full name and hometown if you want it published.

POINT OF VIEW. Be sure to read the debate on today’s Roundtable page about City Council positions.

It’s no surprise that Republicans see the job as part-time and Democrats see it as more than that. In general, Republicans believe government that governs least governs best. Democrats, on the other hand, are more apt to believe government can be a positive force.

Simplistic, perhaps. But the debate about that “nonpartisan” job is split along party lines.

Opinion Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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