Spending nearly $1 million on a blowout celebration sends the wrong message about Sound Transit, especially when it’s asking taxpayers for $50 billion.
THE public should celebrate the completion of signature public projects.
Such events are an opportunity to recognize public servants and highlight projects done on schedule and budget. They also broadcast the availability of new facilities and show taxpayers how their money was spent.
This can all be done without throwing a blowout celebration that costs nearly $1 million, like Sound Transit did in March when it opened its Capitol Hill and University of Washington light-rail stations.
As reported by Mike Lindblom of The Times, the agency spent an eye-popping $858,379 on opening festivities.
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In stark contrast, the state Department of Transportation wisely was more sensitive to taxpayer burdens with itsHighway 520 bridge celebration on April 2. The agency spent just $100,000 while sponsors such as Microsoft and Delta Air Lines covered $650,000 of the $750,000 cost.
Yes, light-rail ridership has increased since the station openings. But not because of the shindig.
When there’s pent-up demand, as public officials asserted when pursuing this $1.8 billion rail segment, riders don’t need to be lured aboard with parties and schwag.
How many of the system’s 25,000 additional daily passengers after the opening are riding light-rail because they saw Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine cut ribbons in a glorious shower of confetti?
Were they inspired to change commuting patterns after glimpsing $13,000 worth of commemorative lanyards, wallets and fare-card holders Sound Transit presented (to VIPs)?
Revelations of this spending come as Sound Transit asks the region to write the largest check in its history, to cover $50 billion worth of rail and bus projects that would take decades to complete.
There’s an argument to be made for funding a large project all at once, to simplify planning and contracting.
The counterargument is that if Sound Transit received such massive funding, it would be less careful about spending and waste taxpayers’ money.
That agency staffers felt free to spend so much on a celebration raises questions about how seriously spending is being scrutinized by elected officials on its oversight board.
Now is the time for Sound Transit to demonstrate that it has a culture of economy, not excess.