« A Real Life "Supporting the Troops" Post | Main | Central Park Calls in the Dogs, Hoping They’ll Drive Out the Geese »

April 06, 2007

Finally a Port Issue (and Candidacy) We Can Understand

Bill Bryant, candidate for the Seattle Port Commission, is attempting to unseat current port commissioner Alec Fisken.  In this Democratic city, Bryant must have figured he needed to present himself as a liberal, especially when taking on one of the more liberal port commissioners.  I, along with many other Democrats, received a campaign letter from Bryant a couple of months ago.  It was interesting enough to make me think it might be difficult to choose between Fisken and this new guy, Bill Bryant.  He quoted Barack Obama.   He talked about caring passionately about preserving competitiveness and family wage jobs and about cleaning up Elliott Bay.   

He did not say that he contributed over $25,000 to Republican candidates from 1999 to 2006 while contributing nothing to Democrats. 

Bryant talked about the port needing new leadership.  Yep!

But I don't think we need a candidate who tries to cover up his Republican roots and the support he is likely to receive from a staunch, pro-status quo PAC mis-named Citizens for a Healthy Economy (CHE).   Noemie Maxwell of Washblog did a nice piece of investigation, talking with both Fisken and Bryant and digging out the numbers on CHE and Bryant's contributions.  According to Fisken:

CHE was formed to oppose Jack Jolley, who was challenging Port Commissioner Pat Davis. Jolley supported a phase-out of the levy and Pat Davis has fought to maintain it.

According to Fisken, these same interests are backing Bryant.  They have a strong interest in keeping that levy.  That's why CHE went after Jack Jolley last year and and want Alec Fisken out this year.  Both support a phase-out of a levy on county taxpayers.  Noemie clarifies the issue and gives us a reason to care: 

The Port of Seattle (POS) collects a property levy in King County of 23.17 cents on every $1,000 of assessed value. That's a projected $68 million in 2007. In contrast, Portland, Tacoma, and Vancouver, WA each collect less than $10 million per year. Port of Seattle Commissioner Alec Fisken tells us that, with the exception of these three ports, "most large ports in North America do not collect any taxes. In fact, most contribute money to their communities in the form of taxes or other payments."


An emerging consensus is that the levy is unique nationwide in its size and that it benefits big business but does not truly serve the public interest.

So, I thank and echo Noemie.  Don't be fooled by Bill Bryant trying to pretend he's a Democrat trying to do what's best for the working people of King County.  And pay attention to this levy issue.  I'm guessing that the Port has been under the radar for so long that almost no one can figure out what the real issues are.  It's time we figure it out.   

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 6, 2007 at 09:53 PM in The Politics of Business | Permalink


It is really rather curious why the local liberal elite spends so much time lambasting the Port of Seattle. Maybe its because when you develop software or do whatever else you do to make gobs of money without getting dirt under your fingernails, live in downtown condos and sip chardonnay, you have absolutely no clue what the typical working stiff has to put up with to make a living.

The port takes in a tiny fraction of the tax money that the city or county takes in, and less tax money than the public libraries or corrections department take in, yet the port creates tens of thousands of family wage-paying union jobs for our entire state. Eastern Washington, where people actually have to get their hands dirty to eek out a living, seems to understand this better than the effete talking heads on this side of the Cascades.

Every other port in North America gets some form of public support. Duh! That's what smart communities do - build public infrastructure - in order to bring high paying, good jobs to their region. Add to that the fact that the county executive pisses away tenfold more tax dollars in a year than the port even takes in, and it really is rather astounding that the uninformed local elite choose to make the port their convenient whipping boy in an effort to at least pretend to look fiscally responsible.

Just watch the unions run as far away from Fisken as humanly possible during this campaign season. Fisken has been in office for four long years, yet he has done absolutely zilch to support the growth in union jobs in our region.

Posted by: Chaos_Theory_Bob | Apr 8, 2007 2:58:41 PM

Alec Fisken and Lloyd Hara are only two progressive votes on a five-member Port Commission. How can you blame Alec Fisken for not getting his agenda accomplished without the votes to do so?

The other seat in play this year is Bob Edwards. Either challenger, security analyst Gael Tarleton or port crane operator Jack Block, Jr. would be a better choice than Bob Edwards. He is backed by developers, supports single-bidder contracts and keeping the property tax in place.

It is simply not true that "every other port in North American gets some form of public support." Most large ports on the West Coast operate at a profit and there's no reason why Seattle can't. It's not relevant to compare its budget to King County's when the mission is quite different.

It's clear to me that the mission of the Port of Seattle is to move people and goods. It is simply not to create jobs. Jobs will be created in the process of moving people and goods, but I would never vote for somebody who put the cart first. There is no end to the giveaways to business that can result from "creating jobs."

"Smart communities" do not give away the hard-earned taxes of their citizens to businesses such as the Port's hospitality contractor that gets sweetheart deals, hires non-union workers and profits at the expense of the Port of Seattle.

Posted by: Sarajane46th | Apr 8, 2007 10:33:52 PM

Sarajane is right. The Port's major imperative is NOT job creation. As an entity that has its own taxing authority, the Port has long been allowed too much latitude, without having to prove transparency OR accountabiltity.

Gael Tarleton, whom I've met many times, would be an excellent addition to the Commission. She's very smart, has years of experience as both an analyst and an international business consultant and she is as no-nonsense as they come.

Posted by: shoephone | Apr 8, 2007 11:15:44 PM

"Most large ports on the West Coast operate at a profit" Sarajane46th

It probably would be good for you to get informed before making broad sweeping statements like that, Sarajane46th. Or do you go by the mantra that ignorance is bliss??

Most large ports on the westcoast and, indeed North America, only make a profit with a fair amount of government support upfront. Vancouver is subsidized by the BC government, Oakland got huge swaths of waterfront handed to them in the 90s by the US Navy as part of the peace dividend as did San Diego, and Portland and Tacoma all get some form of public subsidy. New York/New Jersey get huge revenues through tolling the bridges and tunnels to and from Manhattan, which they operate. Virginia and Georgia ports authorities each benefit from state subsidies. The new CEO, Tay Yoshitani, said that he didn't even have to worry about a capital budget in Baltimore, because the entire tab for port infrastructure buildout was taken care of by the State of Maryland (Yoshitani was the unanimous choice of the commission for CEO by the way, even your darlings Fisken and Hara). Yoshitani has been in top positions in LA, Oakland and Baltimore, all major US ports. I would trust his judgment on what it takes to create good paying union jobs over a Yale educated itinerant investment banker who has driven two businesses into financial distress.

The only ports that buck this trend are LA/Long Beach. They can set any price they want because shippers want fast access to the huge consumer market that is Southern California. We could do the same up here - import 10 million more residents to the Puget Sound region - but I for one don't want to go there.

And as far as progressive agendas go, it was neither Hara nor Fisken (who was absent for the vote) but Commission President Creighton who has been holding the port's feet to the fire on environmental issues. While the others just talk, he brings together the coalitions needed to get things done.

Shoephone - How much transparency does the county public library system or the county corrections facilities have, both of which take in way more tax dollars by the way? Last I saw, they do not have public meetings. The port commission does and you can listen to them on the web or check them out in person or on public access tv.

Posted by: Chaos_Theory_Bob | Apr 9, 2007 7:48:15 AM

Chaos - It's really the height of absurdity to imply that there is something secretive or clandestine about the way the library operates. And when was the last time the library levied $68 million in taxes for the purpose of giving it away to developers?

I've watched the Port meetings on public access, thankyou very much. Much of the work the Port does on behalf of our tax dollars is not chatted about on TV. There is not much that's less transparent and less accountable than the NO-BID CONTRACTS the Port of Seattle is notorious for. I expect that the upcoming audits, only recently adopted into law, will expose more of the bad management and spending decisions made by your corporate friends. After that kind of transparency, perhaps the Port will return to its primary mission: that of creating, managing and maintaining maritime and industrial facilities. Delving into the hotel/motel/restaurant/entertainment business was Mic Dinsmore's legacy, and it ought to be reformed. Dinsmore, by the way, was the highest paid CEO of any Port operation in the country, earning $340,000 a year. Unfortunately, the citizens of Seattle didn't get to enjoy quite the same profits as Dinsmore, during his reign. And of course, he jet-setted and globe-hopped his way into infamy -- all paid for with our tax dollars. Meanwhile, he neglected the primary mission. It must really stick in your craw that people like Fisken and Hara want to preserve Port 46 for maritime and industrial operations, rather than giving it all away to waterfront condo developers.

As for subsidies and profits, instituting tolls on bridges and tunnels -- which directly relate to port activity -- is far different from taxing private property. And Seattle may well end up with tolls anyway, in order to pay for new transportation infrastructure. That makes sense, it's a dedicated fee. Raising property taxes on homeowners to pay for Anthony's Restaurant at the Bell Street Harbor is neither a dedicated, nor a fair tax.

Posted by: shoephone | Apr 9, 2007 9:34:59 AM


Look at your county tax records. The library in fact receives much more than $63 million a year in our tax dollars and gives it away to big time developers in a huge library public works program.

I'm not saying that using tax money for libraries is bad. I think it is a very good thing.

All I am asking for is a little honesty in our public policy debate. The one good thing about the port tax levy is that it provides complete transparency as to exactly where the tax money is going, so that we can properly gripe about it, debate it and demand that our tax dollars are spent responsibly. Other jurisdictions have their public support of ports buried deep in city, county or state budgets.

Posted by: Chaos_Theory_Bob | Apr 9, 2007 10:20:42 AM

Post a comment