Apr 15, 2022
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by journalist from The Seattle Times, Heidi Groover. They begin the show by discussing a zoning change in Shoreline that would allow for more duplexes and triplexes, and the broader issue of housing affordability in Washington and across the country. Crystal and Heidi then dive into pushback from corporations and one city councilor on protections for app-based workers, a standstill getting concrete workers back on the job, and two Seattle Starbucks locations on strike this weekend. They conclude by reviewing predictable results from the Seattle Chamber poll, a proposed law that would impact ballot initiatives and a continued push for SPD hiring bonuses without compelling evidence to support the use of funds.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“Shoreline may decide to allow duplexes and triplexes in all residential neighborhoods” by Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/shoreline-may-decide-to-allow-duplexes-and-triplexes-in-all-residential-neighborhoods/
“Across 26 Metro Areas, Residents Largely Support Allowing Missing Middle Homes in Residential Neighborhoods” by Manny Garcia from Zillow: https://www.zillow.com/research/modest-densification-zhar-30934/
“Millions of Americans are resorting to risky ways to buy an affordable home” by Jennifer Ludden from KUOW: https://www.kuow.org/stories/millions-of-americans-are-resorting-to-risky-ways-to-buy-an-affordable-home
“Corporations Push Back As Details Emerge on Seattle’s Pay Up Legislation for App-Based Workers” by Natalie Bicknell Argerious from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/04/13/corporations-push-back-on-seattles-pay-up-legislation
“Gig Economy Giants Worry Paying Minimum Wage Will Hurt Business” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/04/13/70697302/gig-economy-giants-worry-paying-minimum-wage-will-hurt-business
“‘Going to take some time to ramp up,’ concrete suppliers say of deliveries after strike ends” by KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk from MyNorthwest: https://mynorthwest.com/3433283/seattle-area-concrete-strike-ends-suppliers-not-ready-resume-deliveries/
“This Week in Worker Conquests: Biden Calls Out Amazon, Starbucks Claims to Be “Assaulted” by Unions, and NLRB Petitions Are Up 57%” by Conor Kelley from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/04/08/70306986/this-week-in-worker-conquests-biden-calls-out-amazon-starbucks-claims-to-be-assaulted-by-unions-and-nlrb-petitions-are-up-57
“Workers at two Seattle Starbucks take to picket lines on Friday over claims of union busting” by Nick Bowman from MyNorthwest: https://mynorthwest.com/3436753/seattle-starbucks-strike-friday-april-2022/
Nick Bowman Twitter Thread: https://twitter.com/nicknorthwest/status/1513885223553019914?s=21&t=XCkU4ETYl2IoU0MT6HgfMw
“Chamber Poll Asks Leading Questions, Gets Predictable Answers” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/04/12/chamber-poll-asks-leading-questions-gets-predictable-answers/
“New law could affect the way voters in WA decide on ballot initiatives” by Shauna Sowersby from The Olympian: https://www.theolympian.com/news/politics-government/article260388562.html
“Nelson Continues to Piss Off People with Her Push for SPD Hiring Bonuses” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/04/13/70609336/nelson-continues-to-piss-off-people-with-her-push-for-spd-hiring-bonuses
“The Police Hiring Incentives Conversation Continues” by Amy Sundberg from Notes from the Emerald City: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/amysundberg/issues/the-police-hiring-incentives-conversation-continues-1124878?utm_campaign=Issue&utm_content=view_in_browser&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Notes+from+the+Emerald+City
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Today we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week. Welcome to the program for the first time, today's co-host: reporter for The Seattle Times, Heidi Groover.
[00:00:50] Heidi Groover: Thank you so much for having me.
[00:00:51] Crystal Fincher: Thanks for being on - a lot to cover, just starting out with - Shoreline might decide to allow duplexes and triplexes in all of their residential neighborhoods, which is a big deal - a lot has been talked about on this topic lately. What is Shoreline considering?
[00:01:11] Heidi Groover: Yeah, they're very early in the process. My colleague, Dan Beekman, covered this this week - the City Council is essentially directing its planning department to study this idea and to do public outreach. And this is part of their planning update in 2024, so they're going to look at different options, they're going to look at environmental effects, and then of course they'll do some level of public meetings and that kind of thing to hear where their residents are at. Today, around 70% of Shoreline is zoned for low density development.
[00:01:49] Crystal Fincher: So this would be a major expansion of zoning and density possibilities in the city then.
[00:01:58] Heidi Groover: It would, yeah. And as you mentioned, this is part of this kind of broader discussion that's been happening all over the state and obviously in Seattle for a while, but by one estimate - we need something like 40,000 more units of housing right now, 80,000 more by 2050. People are continuing to move here, prices are up basically everywhere - tons of people want to buy houses in this market or rent, and there just aren't enough of them. And I think sometimes people think this is a Seattle issue or a King County issue, but it's really statewide and it is affecting suburbs like Shoreline. King County home prices last year were up 14%, but that was actually nothing compared to Pierce County, 20%, Snohomish County, 24%, Spokane County, 23%. So you're really going to see this conversation happening all over the state, I think.
[00:03:05] Crystal Fincher: And it is a big deal - it is a statewide problem, as we covered in the conversation that was had during the legislative session that ended about a month ago, where a middle housing bill that would have helped in this area was considered and almost passed, but wasn't able to get past some of the torpedoing by some legislators - in Seattle, go figure. But one of the important things is that it really is affecting suburbs and they need to accept density. They're also relying on the City of Seattle to do a better job of accommodating the people who are moving into the City - because as rents in Seattle skyrocket and people get priced out of Seattle, they then move to the suburbs and are pushed out there, but are also a lot of times bringing their higher incomes and really gentrifying those areas too. So this pressure is felt not just in our major metropolitan areas, but in suburbs and rural areas. And we're seeing the impacts of that with increased rents, kind of across the board.
Now, Zillow also ran a recent poll. What happened with that?
[00:04:26] Heidi Groover: Yeah, they polled in various cities across the country, including Seattle and Spokane, and they asked people about the idea of allowing more density in single family neighborhoods or lower density neighborhoods. And the reason I think this is interesting is that in Seattle, for example, 71% of people said that they think allowing more apartments increases affordability, but when they were asked, "Would you support an apartment building in your neighborhood?" only 53% said yes. And so - that's still more than half - but you see the difference between what people think hypothetically or universally, and then what they're willing to accept in their own neighborhood.
And I think this is really the core of why changing this is so hard - because the state bill that you mentioned, met really fierce pushback from cities and local governments. And I think that's because they know that the people who live there are sensitive to this kind of change and are not always going to welcome it, despite what they say in polls, and they wanted to retain what they view as local control. And so I think that if you don't think about the fact that people fear or are resistant about upzoning - it gets worse and worse the closer it is to them - you're not really prepared to make the changes at the scale. And so that's what's driving, I think, this gentle density thing where we're looking at duplexes and triplexes, because it's a little easier for people to accept. I don't know that that's really going to meet the scale of the housing crisis.
[00:06:24] Crystal Fincher: Well, we're certainly going to have to address a larger percentage of the land that is currently zoned for low density. I do - I think you hit the nail on the head in that support for increasing density and doing things that are proven to help affordability - erodes and people's inner NIMBYs come out. But I also think, to your point, in that, Hey, even when people are asked, well, do you want it in your neighborhood? Still a majority of residents support that. And I do think, from listening to legislators and lots of people in cities - the Association of Washington Cities, which kind of is a lobbying arm for municipalities as a whole - they're used to hearing from a frankly small, relatively small - a minority that's a subset of people who currently own land, their houses have been appreciating and not wanting anything to interfere with that. But as prices have skyrocketed and it's become harder to buy a home and harder to afford to rent, especially in the same areas that people are used to being able to afford, a larger percentage of people are kind of on the outside looking in. And I think that's been driving the increase in support that we've seen to now where even if we ask people, Hey, what if it's in your neighborhood? We're still getting a majority of people who support that.
And so I give credit to people like Chris Roberts - Councilmember Chris Roberts in Shoreline - who, even though they're used to hearing from some of the same traditional voices that we hear in these conversations that a lot of times are NIMBYs, are people who don't want development in their neighborhoods. And they aren't used to having people show up - because it's inconvenient and hard and people aren't familiar with the way the system works and how accessible or not local government is - that they haven't heard as much from people who do want increasing density. But those people are increasingly making their voices heard, and the recognition that there is a significant portion of people's constituencies, of cities' residents, that are demanding solutions to help keep their cities places where they can afford to live and work - that those voices are getting louder and we're seeing leaders step up and respond to that.
And I think that should be applauded and supported, but we will continue to see how this progresses over time - as you said, this is early in the process. Any ideas as to how this will progress in terms of timeline?
[00:09:12] Heidi Groover: I don't know exactly what the next step is, but I would expect that over the coming year, you would start to see more discussion in Shoreline, and more public meetings, more possible policies being laid out as the decision-makers there try to decide - Is it going to be a wholesale upzone? Is it only going to be in certain single family zones? - things like that.
[00:09:40] Crystal Fincher: Makes sense - we will keep an eye on that. Another story came out this week from KUOW talking about - as buying a home is becoming tougher for more people, lots of people are looking towards riskier ways of buying a home. What was in that article?
[00:10:00] Heidi Groover: Yeah, this was a national story from NPR, actually. So they were talking to legal aid advocates all over the country, and they basically found that people are turning to these "alternative financing options" which is basically like an off-the-books, under-the-table deal to buy a house. And it's not recorded by a bank, it's not regulated, it's something like a handwritten note or a handshake agreement. And this means that - if you're in this kind of agreement, you may be able to buy a house when you can't otherwise, because of bad credit or structural factors that make it hard for you to buy - obviously the legacy of racist practices in housing. But you're also not covered by a lot, or any, of the government protection that would usually act to prevent the seller of the house from ripping you off and simply not giving you the house when the time comes.
And so, this has been a hard thing to track because it's off the books. And so Pew did a survey and they found that 20% of borrowers said that they had used something like this at some point, which is significant - and they're largely people with lower income, people who live in rural areas, disproportionately Black and Hispanic people. And so, it's really - it's not the norm, by far, but it is something that is worth paying attention to because this is the kind of situation that people are driven into when they can't get a typical mortgage.
[00:11:56] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's complicated, and with so much - in terms - certainly in America, so much wealth is generated from people's homes. And the way our society is structured that there's - people feel a lot of pressure and urgency to make the move towards buying a home. And with it being more expensive, less accessible, all of these alternatives schemes popping up that are hard to parse for a lot of people - the fine print, the details of those are not necessarily obvious to a layman, or even someone who may have had a traditional mortgage before. This is just different, so it's a challenge.
[00:12:45] Heidi Groover: Yeah, it's not the only risk people are taking - I talk to home buyers all the time in this current market in Washington state who are doing things like waiving their right to an inspection before they buy a house, or waiving their financing contingency - which means that if their loan falls through, they could be out their entire down payment or more. And so, with this extreme - as you said, with this extreme pressure because homeownership is the primary way of building wealth, sometimes of having retirement, or having something to give to your kids - people feel this extreme pressure and they're willing to do almost anything to buy a house. And even real estate agents and people in the industry acknowledge that this kind of stuff is really risky, but they also are like, well, everyone else is willing to do it. And so if you want to buy, this is what you basically have to do. I think it really underscores what a housing shortage - and housing as a commodity that you have to buy - does in a market like this.
[00:13:57] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree. I think we're seeing signs from every corner that we are in an absolute crisis. It would have been great if more was done before this to prevent us from being here, but now that we're here, we need immediate and impactful action to get out of this. 'Cause people are desperate and it's putting people at risk, it's pushing people out of their communities, and we can do better so we need to do better.
Also this week - we have talked about Seattle's Pay Up legislation for app based workers before - this week, we saw a lot of pushback on that. What is that legislation and what is the pushback that we're seeing?
[00:14:41] Heidi Groover: This legislation would ensure that the gig workers who are picking up your food delivery for apps like DoorDash and Instacart are paid the equivalent of Seattle's minimum wage - and that's done through a complicated formula, but that's ultimately the result of the proposal. And it comes amid these two years of this growing recognition of the risks that these workers faced during the pandemic, how heavily so many people relied on them, and in turn small businesses who survived because of the possibility of delivery. And also these ongoing efforts to try to confront this independent contractor model that these companies use in which their workers are not employees and therefore are not guaranteed things like the minimum wage. So Seattle has done a ton of legislation around this, and this is basically the latest in that. And I think the pushback that we saw this week was that the companies alleging what they often do, which is that there wasn't enough process to engage them, that this kind of thing could increase prices for the consumer, which would result in less business for the drivers, and a kind of overall complaint that it's one-size-fits-all, or they weren't consulted enough by the City.
[00:16:16] Crystal Fincher: Which is interesting because it was reported that DoorDash, TaskRabbit, Uber, Rover, instacart, and GoPuff had been invited to participate in stakeholder meetings and also attended them. So did they give any specific feedback on how to make this legislation better, or were they mainly opposed to the entire idea?
[00:16:38] Heidi Groover: As far as I can tell, they're mainly opposed to the entire idea. I'm not actively covering this - so with that caveat, there could be something I'm missing - but based on the coverage I saw this week, they are against the idea and also using this talking point that they don't feel they were consulted enough.
[00:16:59] Crystal Fincher: Yeah - as far as councilmembers, how are they lining up in support or opposition to this?
[00:17:05] Heidi Groover: So the proposal was introduced by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis. The primary opposition or concern I've seen so far is from Councilmember Sara Nelson, who had some of the same concerns that the companies expressed and we'll see how the vote goes. I think we can kind of guess, based on previous votes about gig work, how other councilmembers might line up. But I think it shows the dynamic, which is that most of the Council is, generally speaking, labor friendly. And then several members, including Sara Nelson, have said that there needs to be more focus on small businesses or the business owners' perspective.
[00:17:53] Crystal Fincher: Right, and I have certainly seen Sara Nelson's comments, which have largely, largely agreed with the app companies' comments. We will see how this proceeds - what's next in the conversation about this legislation, and when might it move forward for a vote?
[00:18:14] Heidi Groover: I don't know exactly when it will get a vote. I know that it's just continuing to move through the Council process, and obviously the advocates working in support are continuing to organize. And I imagine the companies are continuing to work on their talking points as well.
[00:18:29] Crystal Fincher: Makes sense. Well, we will continue to follow that. It will certainly be interesting to see further comments from councilmembers, and from Mayor Harrell - to hear how he decides to weigh in on this. It would be very useful - I don't - I have not seen any comment from him so far. Have you?
[00:18:49] Heidi Groover: I have not, no.
[00:18:51] Crystal Fincher: Okay, well, we'd certainly be curious to see what his input is on that, and his administration.
Also this week, there were more developments in the concrete workers strike. Last week, we talked about a judge rebuking the concrete companies for intentionally assaulting, striking workers with vehicles. They have since come to an agreement to largely go back to work, it appears. What's happening there?
[00:19:24] Heidi Groover: Well, as you said, this strike has been going on for months. It's about 330, mostly mixer drivers, who have been on strike for that time - and it started in November, it expanded in December. And so the most reason development, as you said, is that they - the union offered to send all of its workers back unconditionally without a deal. So, that's not something that we see happen all the time in strikes - it's controversial. And it, from the outside, it is unclear whether any real movement has been made in the negotiations.
One of the core issues for the union, which is this retiree healthcare plan - basically drivers - they work all their career, they come to the time they decide to retire, perhaps they are not yet eligible for Medicare and they have access to a healthcare plan that will cover them for that gap between when they retire and when they can go on Medicare. And that plan currently exists, but the drivers want to improve it so that it costs the retirees less. And they say that they are willing, the current employees are willing, to cover that cost and that the companies are refusing. And that that's one of their core issues that they've been trying to get in negotiation. Now, the companies haven't really addressed this as a substantive issue - they've said that their offer is fair, that it includes a pay increase and generous benefits, so it's a little bit of a black box as to what exactly they're thinking on this particular issue. But that's one of the core issues for the union, and as far as I can tell, basically no movement has happened over the course of this strike. And so now they've offered to go back to work. They're saying that that's a good faith gesture and they are waiting for the companies to call them all back to work.
[00:21:26] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and very interesting - lots has been discussed about how many projects in the region are reliant on concrete from these companies and workers on strike - in that timelines for bridge repair projects, other projects are in jeopardy and in danger of being delayed because of the strike. So the workers offering to go back to work would seemingly be a big relief, except the companies are saying, well, yeah, they've offered to come back, but we're not quite ready yet and it's gonna take a lot of time to get them back. Which is kind of reminiscent of what we saw when a smaller subsection of workers offered to go back. What is the complication with getting the drivers back to work?
[00:22:20] Heidi Groover: Well, the companies have - the way they describe it - they have these complex systems for how they dispatch the trucks to different projects and how they plan that out. And during the strikes, they - some of them leased out their trucks to non-union companies, some of them struck these other deals to try to keep concrete flowing with non-union drivers. And so now they're in a position of needing to unwind all of that and return to dispatching the union drivers. And so they say they're working on it as fast as they can, they want the drivers back to work, they want the projects back on track. I've seen some people in the industry speculate that there's a fear that maybe the union will call another one-day work stoppage or something - the strike could return. But I do think that pretty much everyone involved is served by getting the drivers back to work, so I think we'll see it at some point, but they say that it's going to take a little time.
[00:23:28] Crystal Fincher: Well, as we have been, we will continue to follow the developments of that and update you with anything else that might appear there. This week, there's been a lot of labor news. What has been happening, starting with Amazon and President Biden weighing in?
[00:23:46] Heidi Groover: Well, after this really unprecedented vote in Staten Island, where Amazon warehouse workers voted to create and join a union, President Biden said that he supported the effort, essentially. He said, this is what unions are about in my view - providing dignity. He said, Amazon, here we come. So he certainly seemed to be implying that he supports the effort, he wants to see more of it, and that his administration supports unionizing in general.
[00:24:19] Crystal Fincher: Which is a big deal - to have the president of the country weigh in in favor of your unionization, especially when we've seen such ferocious pushback and union-busting activity from Amazon.
Also, news this week that Amazon is developing an internal chat to help workers connect with each other. The challenge is that chat blocks a ton of words, including "union," "terminated," "compensation," "living wage," "unfair," "favoritism," "freedom," "restrooms," "trash," "coalition." Basically it seems like, hey, we're giving you this tool that we are acting like it's supposed to help you and connect you, but really we are going to great lengths to prevent you from being able to talk about anything related to organizing, unionizing, or working conditions - which just seems like it was really short-sighted. They were broadly mocked for that. What do you see in general, in terms of the stance that Amazon is taking and even Starbucks, and versus what their workers are doing and how they're organizing?
[00:25:32] Heidi Groover: Well, I think that what's been really interesting is to read about the organizers of this Staten Island warehouse and basically how they did it, despite all of this behavior from Amazon, which has been happening since they started, and of course happening in Bessemer also - the other warehouse where employees voted on whether to unionize. And if you read about what they did, it's a lot of very grassroots, on-the-ground stuff - they camped out in the break room, gave out free food, and talked to people about the union. They were basically every day at a bus stop out in front of the warehouse talking to people about the union, answering questions about the company talking points, and again, giving out food and other supplies. And they were showing that - we are Amazon workers, we're not an outside third party. We are working here at this warehouse just like you. And we are the union, and here's what that means. And I think that that's a huge reason why they were so successful despite this kind of bizarre stuff from Amazon, like we saw with this internal chat app. So I think that if this is going to move forward in other warehouses, that's probably only going to happen with that same kind of grassroots effort that we saw in Staten Island.
[00:26:59] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it seems to make a big difference. And here locally, we have some news - lots of Starbucks workers have been organizing - there is a wave afoot and a strike coming up this weekend. What's on tap?
[00:27:14] Heidi Groover: Yeah, so nationally it's something like 180, definitely more than 150, Starbucks locations have said that they want to unionize. And here in Seattle, there are a handful - we've had one of them vote so far and they were unanimous in joining the union. And so a couple of the other Seattle stores that are trying to unionize - Fifth and Pike and one on Eastlake - are doing some temporary strike actions this weekend. So Eastlake workers are on strike today, Friday, for one day. And at Fifth and Pike, they're planning to go on strike for three days. And they're raising concerns about - in general their unionizing effort and the company's response - which they view as union busting. The company has repeatedly denied any allegations of union busting. The workers also say they're dealing with things like understaffing and not getting enough hours to stay on their health insurance - things like that - so they're trying to draw attention to their working conditions broadly and their concerns, and why they view unionizing as a way to have a voice in these types of policies at Starbucks.
[00:28:29] Crystal Fincher: Well, we will certainly be continuing to pay attention to that - a lot going on - Howard Schultz is feeling some heat based on some appearances we saw that he made over the past week or two. They are on a roll - they have a lot of momentum - they're asking for what most people consider to be very reasonable accommodations and pay and benefits and protections. And so, personally, I can definitely say I am excited to see how they're making progress and we will continue to follow what's going on there. We'll also include links to help you follow what's going on there in the Starbucks union, Amazon unionization efforts. So check the episode notes for that.
This week, we also saw some polling come out - one of them from the Seattle Chamber. What did this poll say? What did it show?
[00:29:34] Heidi Groover: Well, this was one of these wide-ranging, sort of like how-are-you-feeling vibe track polls, asking people about how they feel about the direction the City's going in, what their biggest concerns are, right track wrong track, things like that. And they also included some questions about housing and homelessness and policing - the big issues facing the City. And I think that the big takeaways were - the thing that made a lot of headlines was - 67% of people said they had considered leaving the City. And I think when you see that, you can kind of quickly slot that into your politics or your priors, and you can assume why people might be saying that. If we actually look at the poll, 35% of people said it was because of cost of living and housing, 29% of people said public safety, crime, drugs, 12% of people said homelessness, 9% of people said City government and leadership. So that gives you a sense of the issues that are making people supposedly consider moving. Again, that doesn't mean they actually left the City - we're just talking about how people are feeling about the state of things.
[00:30:57] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and really interesting - was looking at just analysis by Nick Bowman, who is currently at MyNorthwest, a reporter at MyNorthwest - a Twitter thread analyzing this. And to your point, it's real easy to look at a number like that and then to assume that the reasons why are the reasons why you personally might consider that on either side. I think - we've talked about this a little bit on this program before, and as he points out, this is pretty consistent with eight years of surveys from various pollsters and groups. Looking at polling between 2011 and 2019, a lot of similar sentiments were identified and so it's really interesting that the current conclusion drawn by some over these surveys has been that - well, it's because things are getting more progressive and real Seattle residents don't like that. And we need to get back to the good old days and the way things used to be - which is always really interesting when we think about how Seattle actually really did used to be - but it's really not consistent with how Seattle has voted and elected leaders. A lot of that time - Bruce Harrell was on the Council for all of that eight-year period of declining satisfaction, Tim Burgess was on the Council for about half that time, Scott Lindsay was the public safety advisor for the mayor's office.
The Council's shift to have a significant, progressive arm has been a relatively recent thing. And when we look at polling, the dissatisfaction doesn't track with that shift. And so it just seems premature to make a conclusion that, well, this is dissatisfaction with things moving in a progressive direction. It just looks like dissatisfaction for reasons that have yet to be uncovered, or that are a little bit deeper. Because looking at the history of this, it really does not track with, well, people were more unhappy as things moved in a more progressive direction. Just really interesting, so I hope we see more publicly available polling to do this. There's lots of internal polling that is examining this around the area and the state right now - that'll certainly influence the shape of races and initiatives and the public discourse to come.
But, really interesting and PubliCola also had an article just mocking a couple of the real leading questions that weren't exactly constructed very well or that seemed like they were constructed to get a specific response. But even accounting for that, there's a lot to pull out of this that doesn't seem like it has a simple, well, we just need to do this simple policy or just go back to the way that we used to be doing things. 'Cause that way wasn't popular either. How did you see that?
[00:34:07] Heidi Groover: Well, the other thing that Nick pointed out in that thread was just kind of this question of what it would take to turn those numbers around. So obviously, in the last City elections, we saw a rightward shift toward more moderates - and we now have Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Attorney Ann Davison. And so the question is sort of - if the people with concern about things like public safety successfully elected politicians who said that they were going to crack down on that or make that their primary focus, then when will they begin telling pollsters that they feel better about the City, or will they ever?
[00:34:59] Crystal Fincher: Very relevant question - we anticipate that we'll be seeing more publicly available polling in the future, and we'll certainly be looking to see that, and hope that pollsters probe that - this hopefully is pointing those people in the direction of what they need to explore and uncover in terms of public opinion.
Also this week, we saw some coverage of the new initiative that is going to be on the ballot - Initiative 1929 - to repeal the capital gains tax and other taxes. It would also take out the JumpStart Tax in Seattle. And some - I would assume for supporters of that initiative - really alarming polling. We usually don't see initiatives land on the ballot that have this level of polling. What were the results?
[00:35:53] Heidi Groover: So the results of that polling showed that - in an initial poll, only 40% of voters would vote for that initiative. 39% said No, and 20% were not sure. And then there was a second survey that included a statement about what the initiative would decrease funding for - so this is a new state law that will require that kind of language on any state initiative that would repeal or modify a tax. And so, after including a line about how it would decrease funding for education and other programs, the results were that Yes votes went down a bit to 37%, 49% said No, and then 14% were unsure. So it seems to indicate that that kind of statement on the ballot would erode support for rolling back taxes.
[00:36:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it is really rare to see an initiative move forward on the ballot statewide - that has significant funding to back it up - that is starting - we generally don't see initiatives that start underwater. I mean, their high watermark was 40% when the ballot title is read. The ballot title is "Repeal the Capital Gains Income Tax." And at 40%, it just does not - that's before any negative messaging has occurred, that's before anyone has given voters or the people who were polled a reason to vote against it, just on its face - "Repeal the Capital Gains Income Tax" is a very unpopular thought and proposal. And only 40% of people approve that, which actually tracks with prior polling that we saw in support of the capital gains tax - that was receiving 65-ish% approval for the tax - which is part of the reason why it passed and was so popular.
So just in the face of that, it's a bit odd. And then when given detail - and in the poll it was said this measure - once respondents were told this measure will decrease funding for education, early learning, childcare, and school construction, support dipped even further down to 37%. So, starting from that point, before anyone else has had a chance to mount a campaign to educate people about why this is problematic for many people - it is really unpopular. So they certainly have their work cut out for them. Lots of people - it's not controversial to support education, early learning, childcare, and school construction. Most voters and polling that we've seen repeatedly and in support for school levies and bonds across the state - this is something that they certainly have been willing to dig deep in their pockets to fund because they place such a high priority on it. And they seem to be saying, man, we've been paying for these in terms of levies and bonds forever. It would be great if the ultra wealthy also paid their fair share to help this.
And so it's going to be really interesting to see how this unfolds - Republicans, the state Republican Party, and Republican legislators seem really excited about this. They are notoriously anti-tax and have opposed this from the beginning, but it just seems like a challenging place to be when we saw - in the mid-60s - support to herald its passage and to help get it across the finish line. And now trying to repeal it - you're trying to take away things that people care about deeply and need, and that are beneficial to the community. So, I am curious to see what they saw internally and what they thought internally - that gave them the confidence to proceed with this. I don't know what that would be in the face of results like this. I can't imagine their internal polling would be much better. It doesn't look like they have responded to this polling with anything that substantively or in any way contradicts it. So just kind of odd to see it on the ballot with such low support starting out.
[00:40:28] Heidi Groover: Yeah, and I wonder how this would play out for other initiatives - if it was required that, on the ballot, it said what it would cut funding for. We've seen so many Tim Eyman initiatives be successful, for example, and then a huge battle plays out about - most recently transportation funding. And I do wonder if it would have changed anything if it said what the hit to the state budget was going to be on the ballot.
[00:40:56] Crystal Fincher: Also this week, we'll wrap up talking about the Seattle City Council's conversations around SPD hiring bonuses that seemed to lack any data or suggestion that there's a reason to believe that they'll work. What is happening with that?
[00:41:17] Heidi Groover: This conversation has been going on at the Council for a while, and really as part of the larger conversation about the police department. And it seems that the most recent development is this debate about whether hiring incentives actually work to draw more officers to SPD. And there's a debate going on about - should there also be hiring bonuses for other City departments - what other City departments are facing difficulties hiring people, could hiring bonuses make existing employees feel undervalued, are there other reasons that it's hard to recruit people rather than just money? And so you've got some councilmembers really wanting to focus broadly on all the City departments and the work that the City's HR department has been doing to review hiring bonuses. And then Councilmember Sara Nelson is pretty focused on SPD and really believes that hiring incentives would help to hire more officers for SPD. And so you're seeing some friction between the councilmembers about whether to focus on that, or whether to have this broader conversation. And ultimately it seems to me like a proxy battle for just how the councilmembers view the police department and its role, and how it should be funded, and whether it should be privileged over other City departments. And so it seems like you're going to continue to see that divide play out.
[00:42:53] Crystal Fincher: Well, and I think part of it is that conversation, but part of it is looking at the data that they've received that shows that that did not seem to be an effective tool, so far, for keeping the hiring bonuses on. And the data shows so far that in SPD, the hiring incentive doesn't have any relation seemingly to people wanting to stay. And so there seemed to be more City councilmembers who are - who feel that they do need to do more to fill available spots and open spots, and to retain the officers that they have there. And some of the question seems to be around what is the best way to do that. And so it looks like largely Sara Nelson is saying, well, these hiring incentives work because they work in other cities - and so we don't need any more data or to study anything more here. Councilmember Herbold cited a study in 2019 on SPD hiring incentives in which only 1 in 5 applicants said the bonus affected their decision to stay. And so maybe - she suggested offering relocation assistance for people who are lateral hires might be a better idea, but it doesn't seem like the bonuses were effective in getting people to come here and that the amount of the retention bonuses in comparison to their salaries is enough to impact their decision.
And then also weighing this against - there are staffing shortages in several areas of the City. Does it make sense to also explore retention bonuses in other areas, particularly those where it represents a higher percentage of their salaries and might be more convincing or impactful in a decision to stay. So, I think there's a lot to do with this. I do think they need to continue to look to see if this is a useful and valid method of accomplishing what they want to accomplish. Whether that's a good goal in and of itself - of retention - there is disagreement in the community. But if this is their stated goal of retaining officers, this retention bonus that has been discussed so far and the amount that has been discussed does not appear to be effective in retaining a higher percentage of officers, which is really important overall because the City is still facing $150 million budget deficit. And so these dollars and how they're spent are impactful, given the size of the force and the total amount of expenditures that we're looking at. So we'll continue to follow this conversation also, and see how that proceeds. But I think the more information that we get on how effective the things that we're doing in achieving the goals that are articulated - that that's a useful thing.
[00:46:03] Heidi Groover: I think just that question of the other City departments - I think is going to continue to play out, because even if the Council starts to solve this issue for SPD, I've seen truck drivers, cashiers, other City jobs cited as places where they have trouble retaining people. And you can deal with this problem with SPD and you're still gonna have it in other departments.
[00:46:31] Crystal Fincher: Well with that, we will close the show for today. We thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, April 15th, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler, with assistance from excellent producer Dr. Shannon Cheng and Emma Mudd. Our wonderful co-host today was reporter for The Seattle Times, Heidi Groover. You can find Heidi on Twitter at H-E-I-D-I-G-R-O-O-V-E-R. And you can find me on Twitter @finchfrii. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. While you're there, leave a review - it really helps us out. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in and we'll talk to you next time.