As cyclists we should be pretty happy with Seattle Mayor “Bikin’ Mike” McGinn’s proposed city budget for 2011-12. At a time of severe belt-tightening at all administrative levels of government, alternative transportation fares well — a bump up of $13 million for the coming year.
So sure, the cyclist in us celebrates our good fortune. There’s just one problem.
With everyone else hurting, we cannot feel too good about getting ours.
If there’s one thing we missed at last night’s inaugural public hearing on the budget, it was a shared sense of burden. Group after deserving group, cause after worthy cause, decried the slashes in funding — their own funding. The Non-Profit Assistance Center … SCAN public TV … Friends of the Library … library hour cutbacks, homeless funding, refugee assistance, neighborhood support, low-income housing. All earnestly pleaded for more dollars.
Nobody denies their legitimate claim to more funding. Nobody believes their constituencies deserve less. But the brutal truth is that the city has fewer dollars this year than last, and will probably fall short of projected revenue as well. The downward cycle is in full swing — increased unemployment means less spending, less spending means less revenue, less revenue means increased unemployment. To quote Leonard Cohen, everybody knows the good guys lost.
The fact is, cyclists as a niche group understand, sympathize with, and directly support things like libraries, neighborhood centers, minority needs, homeless efforts and other causes. And it’s just as true that each of these constituencies supports the work of their fellow underprivileged or disenfranchised.
When everyone is hurting, it helps no one to hold out an I-me-mine hand. We should all be in this together. Sending the message that our bottom line should be funded without expressing solidarity with other deserving efforts plays into the hands of corporate kingpins who justify their own greed and selfishness on the grounds that even Tibetan refugees are only out for their own self-interest. It’s divide and conquer at its most cynical.
As Michael Moore put it in “Sicko,” we have to decide whether we’re a me society or a we society.
What if this happened. What if everyone got together at the start of the hearing and gathered at the microphone and, in unison, said, We all support one another’s efforts to make Seattle a better place. We all support one another’s need for restored funding. We all want to work with the City Council and Mayor McGinn to figure out how to distribute the budget burden fairly and equitably among all constituencies. And we’ll all look out for all our own best interests.
As a cyclist, our message to the Council is:
We’re exceedingly grateful for Mayor Mike McGinn’s funding of cycling, pedestrian and transportation alternatives. But any satisfaction we derive must be tempered by the plight of Seattle’s many deserving but underfunded other efforts, from libraries to the homeless, the hungry and minority communities. We urge the City Council to find a way to reduce the deep budget slashes imposed on all Seattle’s social-support efforts. If we have to sacrifice our own gains, so be it. The goal is fair fiscal distribution. Perhaps we could start by reassessing the wisdom of a $4 billion tunnel — an unimaginable amount of money that would fund any number of city causes in perpetuity.