March 26, 2018

Fund the Carnegie at the expense of What?

by Steve Dana

Like most of you, I read the article in the Everett Herald about the county’s plan to build the much down-sized court house remodel. I’m happy for the court house workers that they are getting updated facilities they need so badly.

This example in Everett of elected officials recognizing the error of spending $172 million for the original plan and scuttling the deal even though they had already spent millions up to that point can serve us as we look at the Snohomish Carnegie Library project. Snohomish needs to make sure that spending $4-5 million dollars on the old Carnegie is the best use of our limited public funds.

The county council pulled the plug on the project because it was too expensive. What makes their case different from ours is the fact that the project they killed actually served the people working on the county government campus. The common sense elected officials concluded that spending an extra hundred million didn’t make any sense. Even in the face of a critical need.

So, I come back to the decision-making process in Snohomish regarding the Carnegie Library project. There’s no question that there are strong feelings about restoring the old building, but aside from historical aspects, the building will neither serve a constructive purpose in our little town nor fill a critical need. The spending of the public money will be for a vanity project that does not serve a single identified deficiency or person in our town.

I applaud the county council for recognizing the poor judgment of squandering that money when a more sensible alternative was available. I hope elected officials in all our communities vet big budget projects before they get so far into them that they cannot pull out.

I would hope that before we agree to commit public funds to a project, that project must serve a public need first and second the cost must be reasonable in the context of our total budget. One way to fund controversial projects is to put them up for a public vote. If the citizens want to take on bonded debt to pay for the project, then a public vote would confirm that. I would be in favor of that method of funding the Carnegie.  Then voters would agree to tax themselves to pay for the project.

All of our communities struggle with their own challenges in meeting the needs of their citizens. Both Lake Stevens and Arlington are living with working libraries that are grossly inadequate for their communities but like our city did, they are doing their fiscal analysis and hopefully concluding that the need justifies the cost. When we built our new library, it made sense because we determined the need justified the expenditure.

Now looking at the old Carnegie building, I see a building that has no functional purpose in our city. At the same time, our finance department is advising us that revenues coming into the city coffers are trending downward and how we must be cautious with our commitments looking out into the future.

The funding source for the Carnegie Library is Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) monies. This money is earmarked for certain kinds of projects; one of which could be restoration of the Carnegie. So technically, it qualifies. But the larger question that should be answered first is “What other projects might this money be used for that actually serve the needs of our city and citizens?”

I would hope the Snohomish City Council would do a thorough budget analysis regarding our REET funds to insure that committing millions to one project won’t handicap us in other parts of the city where there is an actual need.

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January 4, 2017

Build American, Employ Americans, Buy American

by Steve Dana

I can remember a couple years ago when the Boeing Company was planning the 787 Dreamliner program and where to build the airplane.  There was mega competition between our state and a bunch of others.  I remember a half dozen state representatives from various states making a case for Boeing building the factory there.  Attracting Boeing jobs to their states and the economy created by those jobs is the thing we want for our whole country moving forward with the Trump administration.

The state of Washington was eager to throw in the kitchen sink to keep jobs here while South Carolina made a similar offer and was rewarded with an assembly plant.

Don’t tell me that every manufacturing company in and out of the US isn’t playing that same game.  Who is willing to give up the farm for the jobs our company brings when we choose your state or country.

If our government adopts regulatory policies, tax policies and trade policies that encourage businesses to move jobs out of the country, can we be too surprised when they do move to Mexico, China or Viet Nam?

When the goal of our elected officials is to tear down our country in order to build up foreign economies it all makes sense.  The New World Order folks are determined to level the playing field and it will happen at the expense of Americans and America.  For me, whatever we do needs to consider American interests first, period.

The two sectors of the economy growing in our country are Service and Public Employees.  Since we need a robust service sector to take care of us this group cannot be outsourced. We are making it really easy for immigrants (illegal or legal) to get jobs in the service sector. The problem is that they are the lowest paid sector and only insures that the workers remain poor.

The health care industry is one of the fastest growing service sector components, it does include workers in upper income areas, but since it’s closely tied to insurance companies, it isn’t really a free market industry.  Consider how many doctors are retiring because of the government and insurance company restraints.  Health care is a growth industry, but because of the regulation and insurance it’s not as much a profit center it once was.

The Public Employees range from Police and Fire Fighters, to city, county and state public works employees, transportation workers and many social service agencies.  Federal agencies also employ millions of Americans.  The good news for these employees is the pay tends to be higher than service sector jobs.  The bad news is public employees work for a non-producing segment of the economy.  Public agencies rely on the private sector economy to produce the revenues that feed the growth of government agencies.  Can you think of any government worker that is paid the minimum wage?

The bottom line is we need a very robust tech segment coupled with a robust manufacturing segment to create the jobs required to have a growing, producing economy that will produce tax revenues to feed government’s needs.  The role of government is to be good stewards of the public funds but since they didn’t have to work or sacrifice to make that money, it is often squandered.

The key is not the government, but the private sector businesses that produce the products and services and jobs that make up a healthy economy.

How could NAFTA or any other international trade agreement that encourages American businesses to move their facilities out of the country be good for Americans?

It used to be that there were American companies and foreign companies.  Now companies are international or not affiliated with a country; they are looking out for their share-holders first, second, third and last.  Privately held American companies are an exception but they represent a small percentage of businesses and a large number of employees.

If we want to grow the American economy, we need to create incentives to retain businesses and jobs here like we did with Boeing while we consider appropriate penalties for companies that move their jobs off shore but want to sell their goods here in America.

The answers are not simple, but since the companies don’t have allegiance to America first then I’m not as likely to cut them slack if their decisions exploit our economy but don’t enhance it.

If Americans believe that they will get a fair shake from any international government or company, they are nuts.  We need to fight for our economy even if it means some consumer goods are more expensive.  Build American, Employ Americans, Buy American.

November 11, 2016

YOUR’RE FIRED is still in play!

by Steve Dana

Now that the election is over, it’s time to get to work.  For the new administration, a legislative agenda would be helpful.  For each cabinet position where a new appointee will take over, a preliminary legislative plan needs to be developed in coordination with the corresponding House and Senate committee chairs.  Whoever is managing the ObamaCare replacement needs to be working simultaneously with other folks working on defense and veterans affairs, EPA regulatory burdens, the IRS Tax Code, immigration, trade policy and all the other government issues holding back our economy.

Each of the Committee Chairs in the Congress needs to be working with the new administration to propose and draft legislation then hold hearings that can move toward adoption one after the other.  Negotiating a preliminary framework for target legislation in the weeks prior to the inauguration should be a job for a guy like Newt Gingrich who already has a history with the Contract with America. Newt and Mike Pence should be able to work together to make it happen.

For years these electeds have been sitting on their butts doing nothing.  Now it’s time for them to start working positively FOR something.

Striking while the iron is hot is key.  Call the Republican leaders together and get them working on something positive; keep their feet to the fire and get something done.  It will be a good test of whether leadership in the Congress is serious about moving the rock or just jacking their jaws.  I suspect that Mitch McConnell might have another agenda, but we will see.

President-Elect (PE) Trump comes to the Presidency from the private business sector so he should be able to recruit executives from very successful businesses to facilitate some of the leadership tasks.  One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that when your President calls and asks you to set aside your personal agenda to serve your country, you need to give it serious consideration. Historically, politicians have turned to business round-tables for input.  We have an enormous pool of talent in our country waiting to be tapped into.  This is a good opportunity to bring folks in from key disciplines to offer suggestions.  A SHARK TANK for government.

If our government is operating properly, then the environment for business is invigorated.  Business leaders should be able to identify specific ways to reduce governmental burdens while protecting consumers from unscrupulous businesses.

Finally, whoever is chosen to lead our Defense Department and State Department need to strap on their vests and sidearms and develop a preliminary plan to take the reins and send the message around the world that America will not be intimidated or disrespected.

This is an aggressive plan for PE Trump that calls for him to demonstrate his business management skills including delegation of responsibilities.  It will be a test of the appointees.  Ironically, it may be another chance for Trump to invoke his most famous line; “You’re Fired” for folks who are not up to the task.

October 1, 2016

STRONG MAYOR -WEAK MAYOR? You Get to Choose!

by Steve Dana

Whenever someone suggests a change from one long standing status to something else, the almost certain response from the entrenched is “NO Way”. Frequently without considering all the information.

A group of local residents has taken exception with the way the city government is organized and is proposing that we change back to an elected mayor who is the chief executive of the city and a council that is legislative from what is commonly known as the Council-Manager form of city government to the Strong Mayor-Council form.

The basics of the two forms of city government are these.

STRONG MAYOR the city voters directly select the chief executive that lives in the city and stands for election every four years.  He/She works with an administrator to comply with all applicable statutes.  The elected mayor works with the council to develop policies and has the authority to veto legislation at times.

COUNCIL MANAGER, the city council members hire a professional public administrator who is accountable to them to manage the affairs of the city to comply with applicable statutes.  The city manager is not accountable to the public directly and is not required to live in the city.  The council majority selects a “weak mayor” with no legal authority to direct city affairs, to run the council meetings and to serve as a figurehead in the community and away from the city in various capacities as circumstances warrant.

There is plenty of data available to support the merits of both types of city government.  One is not necessarily superior to the other.  Like most large organizations, the people who hold the jobs have more effect than the titles they bear.  It’s a matter of local preference.

In Snohomish County there are eighteen cities.  Most prefer the STRONG MAYOR form of government.  The only cities I can recall that choose the COUNCIL MANAGER option are Snohomish, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace and Bothell.

That would suggest the STRONG MAYOR is the preferred form of city government in our county.  I don’t know of any cities contemplating a conversion to COUNCIL-MANAGER.

The reason most cities prefer the STRONG MAYOR is because they have a direct hand in selecting their executive that is accountable to them and who understands who he/she works for and as such is sensitive to their issues.

The COUNCIL MANAGER form of city government is like a board of directors choosing a CEO who is only accountable to the board.  That CEO knows who he/she needs to keep happy and it isn’t the public.

At the time the city changed to the COUNCIL-MANAGER the world was different and the city finances were in the red.  The thought was that a city manager brought professional management expertise to the city that a “non-professional” elected city mayor could not.  At the time we adopted that change, it was the right thing to do for the times.

After forty plus years, things have changed.  We have been disappointed by appointed city managers and had no ability to change without running for council to be one voice among seven.  City residents are thinking they want the chance to reconsider that decision and to have a directly elected city executive again.  It doesn’t pose a threat to anyone who lives in the city or to the affairs of the city locally or regionally.

At the time that the citizens proposed a ballot measure, the council decided to NOT SUPPORT the effort which is their prerogative.  The fall back for the citizens was a petition which secured enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

The amusing thing is the amount of organized opposition to the measure suggesting that if it passes the city will somehow suffer.  How can our city suffer if the voters decide to choose their own leader rather than leave it to as few as four council members?

I support this measure and always have since the days when I served as the WEAK MAYOR from 1991 through 1995.