Of a 140 story skyscraper in downtown Olympia

November 27th, 2012 by Ken

By Joe Illing

Sometimes you’ve got to wonder how dumb people can get.

Take Olympia’s current mayor, Stephen Buxbaum, for example. In the midst of the country’s worst financial crisis in close to a century, he wants to spend around $600,000 to replace the city’s parking pay stations with individual parking meters … and this just two years after spending about $750,000 to install those pay stations.

Why? Because, as the good mayor puts it, the pay stations are paid for.

Or how about this? The about-face the mayor and his council took on the city owned Smith office building. They promised the electorate that they’d sell it (assessed value $2,300,000) in order to help pay for their new city hall ($36,000,000). But, once re-elected, they were overcome by a sudden fit of (taxpayer paid) social conscience and sold it as a homeless shelter for $1.

Why? Because (and “there’s real science” behind this according to hizzoner) by not creating 60 new beds for the homeless we’d be creating a situation that would, at some point in time in the future, have “negative consequences on the public balance sheet.”

Well there you have it! Economics 101 as taught by a real wiz kid!

Of course there are a few flies in the mayoral ointment. A few things Mr. Buxbaum and his buddies don’t quite see.

First, there’s the economy stupid!

Times are tough. The city’s tax revenues are down. People’s incomes are down, and getting lower. Unemployment is up, way up. Household wealth is down, way, way down. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who’s doing well lately, other than city employees that is, whose salaries are up, ranging from between 7% for general government workers to well over 20% for fire fighters.

And second, Olympia is a company town … and that company is state government. And it’s shrinking fast. Revenues for the state have fallen dramatically over the past four years and it keeps shedding workers like a Big Leaf Maple shedding leaves in the fall.

So what exactly does this look like? Where do we see are the signs of this economic devastation?

Well, outwardly we really don’t. Plenty of cars clog the roads. Plenty of shoppers shop at the stores. Plenty of customers eat at MacDonalds and Brewery City Pizza. But if you look beyond that, it’s pretty easy to see.

Take a look at the real estate market. Compare home prices today with those of a few years ago. Talk to the hundreds of bankrupt ex-homeowners who bought high and couldn’t sell low. Who thought their rocketing home values would soar forever. Who borrowed against that assumption with re-fi’s at chump rates, or second mortgages disguised as home improvement loans.

Take a look at the vacant office buildings everywhere! About one million three hundred thousand square feet of empty offices litter the landscape of the Olympia area, victims of down-sized state government.

And take a look at the workers who filled them. The people who’d go somewhere besides MacDonalds for a dinner out, who’d go shopping at Dree’s or Macy’s, who’d buy an All Star Ford or a Capital City Honda, and by so doing feed the tax coffers of Olympia.

But they’re gone. And like the empty office buildings, they’re invisible, especially to the leaders of the city.

It’s a bit like the story about the king with no clothes, you know, the guy who pompously paraded around naked until someone noticed, someone far less sophisticated and far less intelligent than he.

And that’s what we need in Olympia. A symbol that everyone can see so they can understand exactly the dimension of the situation we face.

So, let’s take all those empty office buildings and stack them on top downtown’s first skyscraper, the five story Security Building (kind of an ironic name, isn’t it) … and when we’re done we’ll have a one hundred and forty story Security Building.

Perhaps then the seven economic dwarves who write and approve the city’s budget will understand … we’ve got a problem.

Perhaps then they’ll understand that we’ve got another kind of homelessness in Olympia, buildings without tax-paying tenants. But it’s an invisible kind of homelessness, quiet and unobtrusive, but one, Mr. Mayor, that also has negative consequences on the public balance sheet … and not so very far down the road either.

Maybe then you and your council mates will be able so see it, after all, it’s 140 stories tall!

(Joe Illing is an Olympia business owner and a former candidate for Congress.   You can access his blog “at joeilling.com  for more of Joe’s wisdom.)

Posted in The Real News

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