I went to my fourth meeting of the Center City Roundtable last week, where 50-some stakeholders gathered to discuss the intersection of misery and commerce. It was a refreshingly zero-bullshit environment.
I’ve grown to really enjoy these people. Every time probation-officer lady opens her mouth, I’m transfixed. Want to see the world how it is? Try her job. Zero bullshit.
The cops? A buncha damn liberals. These guys catch crap at national conferences for being “soft,” but you want to see a decent drug policy? To the extent that one exists anywhere in the U.S., it’s in Seattle. Or at least it’s beginning to be.
Then there is Bill Hobson, who runs the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) and has seen everything. Bill is unofficial spokesperson for the human services tribe, and alternates between deep insight and burying his face in his hands in despair.
And there’s all the various people who represent downtown business or resident interests, all of whom appear quite reasonable, compassionate and smart. Also sprinkled throughout are a whole lot of government types who mostly don’t talk, because if they did, they would just speak wonk, and they can do that later among themselves.
But even in this remarkably bullshit-free environment, bullshit still reigns.
Over the past two budget biennia, mental health and substance abuse funding in this state has taken a $10 million hit. It’s not like these were lavishly funded programs to begin with. The results are expensive and inhumane. And there was more. Much more. The knives have been out for quite some time.
This is what radical inequality looks like. It’s the luxury condos near Pike Place Market and the drug-addicted schizophrenic on their doorstep. Excess and abandonment, side by side.
We know how to work with this to make it almost humane. We’re already doing it.
There’s the nationally renowned 1811 Eastlake project for homeless people with chronic alcohol addiction. Referred to as “wet housing,” it doesn’t ban drinking. There’s the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, a model for enlightened drug crime policy. There is DESC’s Crisis Solutions Center, which steers people away from jail and emergency rooms and into housing.
These are all smart and effective programs that mop up the mess and save money and lives. But when the cuts and the carnage keep coming, they are but a drop in the bucket.
There is only one word that can cut through all the crap — revenue.
The Washington State Budget and Policy Center has some solid recommendations: renewal dates for tax breaks and tax expenditure transparency, a working family tax rebate and an increased capital gains tax, all of which would place more of the tax burden, in this most upside-down-tax-burden state in the union, on those most able to pay.
None of this is especially radical, but of all the ideas floated at the roundtable, a serious discussion of the revenue question was not among them. Why so taboo? We need to cut the bullshit and raise taxes on the rich, because if we don’t, all we have, really, is a bunch of clever ideas, all dressed up with nowhere to go.