In Office Since January 2010

Have the Debate and Pass the Resolution!

In its 30 March 2013 “In Our View” column, “The Columbian” editors gave jeers to “wasting time in Washougal.” They chided the city council for discussing a resolution opposing the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) in its present form that includes light rail. They also asserted that the resolution is “inaccurate.”

In my “Camas-Washougal Post Record” editorial of 2 April – Take a Stand! (Available on the News Page of my website, I identified such objections to discussion as a tactic for defeating issues that council minorities oppose by shutting down discussion of them. In summary, if it never comes to a vote, the minority will not lose that vote. And CRC supporters, currently in the minority on the Washougal City Council, are using such tactics to try to shut down the discussion of a resolution opposing the CRC in its present form. Apparently they, and their tactics, are supported by the Editorial Board at “The Columbian.”

The question of accuracy is more difficult. Suffice to say however, that neither side of the CRC question has an absolute monopoly on truth. Each of us must sort out that question for ourselves, although my own opinion favors the anti-CRC side because its arguments are more factual than emotional. The history of such projects in nearby locales, however, does offer some insights.

History offers us the opportunity to include in our assessment of such projects facts not made known by proponents at the time the projects were being advocated. Take the Portland light rail experience, for example.

Thanks to various studies and investigations, including those by the Libertarian Cato Institute, Boston-based Economic Development Research Group, “Portland Tribune,” and “Willamette Weekly,” we now know that the Portland light rail project was rife with inaccuracies and corruption from the beginning. It did not deliver on its promises. Worse, it enabled a few to get rich at public expense.

Former Governor Neil Goldschmidt and his associates used their influence to ensure generous contracts were awarded to friends and supporters. Key decisions were based not so much on the public interest as on benefitting those tied to Goldschmidt’s crony capitalism.

Goldschmidt touted “urban planning” as a way of creating population-dense neighborhoods and focusing transportation expenditures on mass transit. The unfortunate side effect was disadvantaging automobile drivers who paid the gas taxes that were diverted to help fund mass transit.

Mass transit supporters and anti-automobile groups united to support urban planning. Urban planning, however, turned out to be deceptive cover for a crass scheme to enrich Goldschmidt’s group at taxpayer expense. Portlanders recently have begun to recognize the significant damage it did to Portland area transportation systems and neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, Washington’s urban planning efforts offer more of the same opportunities for corruption on a large scale project like the CRC. Early cost overruns suggest reason for concern.

This brings us to the question of who benefits most from the CRC on our side of the river. The same groups that benefitted from Portland’s light rail corruption will also benefit here. Land speculators, politically-connected developers and contractors, construction and transit unions, and the politicians they all support will all get a piece of the pie. Taxpayers will get the bill. And as we have seen with TriMet’s current financial difficulties, the taxpayers’ bill will grow over time.

As with all such projects involving billions of dollars in public funds, opportunities for corruption will be available. History suggests that they will be taken. It is not so much a question of whether there will be corruption, but the degree of corruption that will attend such efforts.

Why then should Washougal council members not publicly register their concerns over this profligate misuse of public funds, a portion of which comes from Washougal residents in the form of federal income, state sales, gas, real estate, and other taxes, to say nothing of the inevitable tolls? We would be remiss if we did not! And it would take less time if those opposed to the discussion would enter the debate instead of taking up council time trying to shut it down.

Dave Shoemaker
Washougal City Councilman