Week in Review: June 30, 2023 - with Matt Driscoll

Week in Review: June 30, 2023 - with Matt Driscoll

This week in review, Crystal is joined by metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll!

They discuss the first closure of a state prison in over a decade, the new statewide drug law likely to fill more jails than treatment centers, Bruce Harrell’s new Downtown Activation Plan, a new poll found 82% of voters don’t believe highway expansions are the best solution for reducing congestion, Washington receiving $1.2B for affordable and reliable high-speed internet access from the Biden administration, and the King County Council deciding that businesses must accept cash.

About the Guest

Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll is metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma.

Find Matt Driscoll on Twitter/X at @mattsdriscoll.


Cydney Moore, Candidate for Burien City Council Position 2” from Hacks & Wonks

Washington Department of Corrections to close one of 12 prisons” by Joseph O’Sullivan from Crosscut

Washington's new drug law was 'designed to fill our treatment centers.' Experts say it won't” by Scott Greenstone from KNKX Public Radio

Harrell’s Downtown Plan for the Perfect Seattle” by Ray Dubicki from The Urbanist

Stop The Sweeps Protesters Drown Out the Mayor’s Boring Downtown Press Conference” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger

Americans Are Ready to Move On from Highway Expansion Even If Politicians Persist” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist

Many WA residents still don't have internet access. How much will $1 billion help?” by Shea Johnson from The News Tribune

King County will require businesses to accept cash” by Melissa Santos from Axios Seattle

Find stories that Crystal is reading here


[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. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and our Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

If you missed our Tuesday topical show, I chatted with Cydney Moore about her campaign for re-election to Burien City Council Position 2, the accomplishments from her first term, and her consistent progressive track record. We also dug into the details of Burien government's most recent non-handling of their unhoused populations as sweep after sweep has disrupted and endangered lives, caused community division, and failed to solve anything. Today, we continue our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll. Hey, Matt.

[00:01:32] Matt Driscoll: Thank you Crystal - yeah, hi. Thanks for having me again - it's great to be back.

[00:01:36] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you back, very excited to have this conversation today. And starting off, we received news this week that one of Washington's 12 state prisons, the Larch Corrections Center, is going to be closing basically for lack of demand. What did you see here?

[00:01:54] Matt Driscoll: Yeah - first of all, no shortage of news this week, so that's always good. But yeah, this is one of those stories that - I think for maybe some folks - flew under the radar a little bit, but the lack of need aspect of it is really interesting. Obviously in the announcement, it was acknowledged that if the situation changes in the future, they reserve the right to reopen the facility, which is a minimum security facility. But it's really interesting and follows our incarceration rates here in the state, which have dropped. Some of that's pandemic related - maybe a significant portion of it is pandemic related, whether folks being released, or toward the end of their sentences, or just some of the ways that the justice system has been slowed down.

But yeah, it's really interesting, of course, because by a lot of metrics, it's described as a success. The state has been working to reduce its population of incarcerated individuals, I think, as a society, or at least as a state - partisan aspects of this. But understanding or the acknowledgement that incarcerating people - in all instances, for long periods of time, over and over again - is not ideal, not good for our society, not good for people. They would say that in addition to some of the things that have cut down prison population, just pandemic related or whatnot, some of the things they're doing within the prisons to reduce recidivism rates and those sorts of things are working. I would say that we still need much, much more of that - still really underfunded and just under-everything area. I think that when you talk to folks who were incarcerated, I don't think the sentiment is usually that - Yeah, we've got everything we need here to help us. I think there's still a lot of need there, I guess, is what I'm saying. But yeah, overall, I think it's a sign, hopefully, that some things are working. Also, I'm hesitant to read just too much into it in terms of gauging our success of reducing recidivism or reducing prison population, just because there are those kind of variables related to the pandemic and those sorts of things. I don't know - what was your take?

[00:03:58] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think it's interesting. And clearly, the trend has been - especially with lower security facilities - is focusing on more evidence-based practices that do reduce recidivism. And those are more likely to occur in community settings, not in carceral settings. Localities have been moving in that direction, counties have been moving in that direction. Now, we're seeing a retrenchment of some more punitive policies, so I wonder if that is going to turn around. I thought it was interesting that we saw Teamsters Local 117, which represents a lot of the corrections officers, expressing dissatisfaction with this move - talking about it will be detrimental to the prison staff and their families. But I think a lot of people also view this as the impact on the population. Obviously, I think most people want the end goal for us to have a safer community overall. And so if we can - for people who have committed an offense, whatever offense - if we can lower the chances that they do that again, following those evidence-based practices, I think most people are on board with that. I think we do need to see that.

But we'll see how this continues. Certainly, imprisoning people is wildly expensive, and many local budgets are feeling the pressure of that. Certainly, the state budget is feeling the pressure of that. So this is the first closure since 2012, 2011 - since the McNeil - yeah, yeah, so it's been quite a while. We'll see if this is a trend that continues, especially as we have more local conversations about whether to close county facilities and other facilities here. So interesting to see - I am gratified to see it. We will see if this is a trend that continues. And obviously, the most important thing is making sure our communities are safer.

Also want to talk about news this week - really analysis - of Washington's new drug law in response to the Blake decision, kind of 2.0, the second take on it. And lots of people looking at the new drug law with the hopes that it would increase access to treatment, but it looks like that is not what it's going to do. What's your take on this?

[00:06:10] Matt Driscoll: I have a broad take on this, just in general. I think that - and somewhat in relation to the conversation we just had - the thing progressives, or Democrats, are really good at doing is identifying, for lack of a better term, the easy part. I think there is an acknowledgement that the criminalization of drug use and the War on Drugs was a failure and is not the way to address issues of addiction. It's just not. And so I think there's broad consensus on that. But unfortunately, for a whole lot of political reasons and other reasons, at this point - in my mind, and again, I'm an opinion columnist, so take this for what it's worth - but the bulk of what they've been able to do is the easy parts of the decriminalization side, which is an important side of it. But what we don't have, what we don't even come close to having is infrastructure or the alternative that's actually going to provide treatment and recovery for people. And so sure, to my mind, what's happened so far is basically we've said - Okay, we shouldn't criminalize drugs, but we haven't in any way, shape, or form set up the infrastructure that it's going to need or dedicated the funding that it's going to need to actually create something better.

And so in the interim of that, I think what you're seeing - and I don't subscribe to the conservative idea that all the drugs we see on our streets are related to Blake, and I'm not buying that. But I do think in the interim, what you've seen - and it impacts people's perception and it impacts people's views - increased suffering on our street, increased the visibility of suffering and addiction, and just contributing to a general feeling that society is unraveling. And you can have a kind of whatever take on that you want, but until progressives, until Democrats, until as a state, we actually create a system that provides an alternative to criminalization and go beyond just things that make it less criminal or decriminalized altogether, I think we're going to be stuck in a very hard spot. So I think there's a lot of work yet to be done. And in several instances, I've interviewed proponents of trying to get an initiative on the ballot around the decriminalization of drugs and setting up treatment options - and those proposals always funnel massive amounts of money towards treatment, like that's the other part of it. And we just really haven't, to my mind, gotten there yet.

[00:08:36] Crystal Fincher: We haven't gotten there. And in my mind, there's a wild inconsistency between the rhetoric about - especially this Blake bill that they passed - and the reality of it. It's absolutely true there's a lot of rhetoric here. Inslee is saying this bill was meant to fill our treatment centers, not to fill our jails. Oh, but it was absolutely written to fill the jails - to be clear. The rhetoric around Blake acted as if we had a free-for-all for the prior years, but that's not the case. The Blake decision was actually, a couple of few years back. It has been a misdemeanor to possess drugs - that they have not been decriminalized for years. And this latest fix increased the criminalization, while removing treatment mandates and options there. So we have something now that's a gross misdemeanor, adding additional public usage stuff on there, and basically giving all of the tools and infrastructure to arrest - but not providing anywhere close to the infrastructure to treat, while at the same time providing discretion to prosecutors to say - No, we actually don't want to do diversion at all. It's not something they have to do. It's optional at this point in time. And we see, even in cities like Seattle, them moving to dismantle some of the community-based and treatment-based options they had with Seattle exiting, the city attorney saying that Seattle will be exiting the community court program.

So it just is confounding to me because - no, clearly this is going to fill jails. Clearly we're going to see more arrests and prosecutions because that's explicitly what this bill allowed for. And it also allowed for these continuing closures that we're seeing, and this lack of capacity without doing much meaningfully to address it. We see the county stepping in - counties stepping in really across the state - to try and fill some of that gap. But without state action, we're still going to be woefully under-resourced.

[00:10:36] Matt Driscoll: The points, or a point, I was trying to inarticulately make - because I agree with all of that - is, and going back to the rhetoric, clearly the idea that the massive expansion, everything we've seen relates to Blake is not true. There's so many more factors to that. But I guess my point being that because progressives and Democrats haven't gone beyond just decriminalization and haven't created anything better, it created a void where that rhetoric and political pressure to do something was able to grow. If you're just the average person in Washington and you see what's going on, you wouldn't be right, but I can understand how you would come to the conclusion that we've got to do something and we'll criminalize more. I can understand how people get there. So the point being that because Democrats and progressives haven't done the full deal, they've only done the easy parts - it creates the space for the reintroduction of the punitive measures, the reintroduction of the criminalization. And until they go the full way, I think it's going to be really hard to completely break free of that.

[00:11:47] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think that's a good point. And also to that, just overall, when we have situations like this where the rhetoric does not match the legislation - and they talk of moving in one direction, but pass policy that make it inevitable that we will be moving in the other direction - it makes it harder to implement actual progressive policies because you're wrapping these conservative policies in the cloak of progressivism. And so when people hear - Okay, these are the progressive people in charge. They're passing progressive policy and it's failing. Well, yeah, of course it's failing because it's essentially the same War on Drugs. But that does make it harder in the future to do anything because people hear - Oh they tried something new and it didn't work, so let's go back to what it was when we have been doing that the whole time. So it just is frustrating from a policy perspective, it's frustrating just from dealing with it in our communities. This is an untenable situation overall. It is not great to have people using in public around other people. It's not great to have people suffering with addiction and really having nowhere to turn or having to be criminalized before you get access to services. It just is undesirable. And I wish we would do all of the work - the easy and the hard stuff to your point - to actually take a real shot at an evidence-based solution to this.

[00:13:09] Matt Driscoll: Hear, hear.

[00:13:10] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now also this week, we saw Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell seemingly try and address some issues like this, included with his downtown activation plan. What was your thought about his plan and the reactions to it?

[00:13:27] Matt Driscoll: Yeah - of course, I have the comfort of watching all this from afar, which is always enjoyable. The first thing is, from a lot of perspectives, this was seen as a - and I know there's a lot to it - but addressing some of those issues we just talked about - around kind of disorder, open drug use, addiction in our streets, and the impact that's having on downtown. But I think it's also worth keeping in mind that when we talk about downtowns, just in general, they're facing a lot of challenges right now in terms of the reinvigoration, or whatever we're calling it, that are not related to those sorts of issues. The lasting impact of COVID and everything that went along with it is still very much in effect. Here in Tacoma - last time I checked - you're looking at occupancy rates, offices are still 60%. Here at UWT, students aren't on campus like they used to be. The broader point being - there are a whole lot of issues that are impacting downtowns right now that kind of go beyond the "Seattle is Dying" - homelessness on our streets, addiction, all that kind of stuff.

And from my understanding of it, there are parts of Harrell's plan that kind of deal with that, in terms of the closing of streets and some things. Because I think we're going to have to reimagine our downtowns in some respect. I don't think it's necessary - I'm tempted to say it's never going to go back to the days when we can rely purely on the 9-5 office work to sustain a downtown. What I probably should say is if that is going to happen, it's not going to happen anytime soon. I think that we've experienced massive changes, and there are massive trends, and there are trends that downtowns are going to have to adjust to. Now, all that being said - again, I think Harrell - related to the disorder, crime, drug use, again - it goes back to that conversation we just had around the political pressures and the ways that when we half measure things, or don't go the full way - or to your point, which is a really important one - wrap bogus policy in progressive talking points and champion it like progressivism when it's really something different and then it fails, it creates a lot of pressure. And I think there's a lot of pressure on Harrell right now. I think a lot of residents want, rightfully, rightfully want to see a downtown and just a city that is not dealing with these stories.

It's not good. I write a column, my politics are out there. What we see in our downtowns right now, just in general - and not even just downtowns - it's not good. There's suffering, there's addiction, there's disorder - and it contributes to a feeling that kind of society is falling down. And I don't mean to be hyperbolic around it because I know the kind of the perspective is important and there are a lot of factors here, but it's that tension too. And I think Harrell is trying to respond to the very real concerns that people have. And I know that the rhetoric of those concerns doesn't always really match the politics of councilmembers and Seattle as a whole, and so there's that tension. But you're the poll person, not me, but I think I saw a poll not too long ago that said Harrell's approval or numbers look considerably stronger than the city council. And I think issues like this are a reason why, because I think there are - and again, I don't live in Seattle, I don't know, you tell me, you don't live in Seattle either, but you follow Seattle much closer than I do - I think there's a large part of the population that's just really frustrated and really fed up and is looking for answers and is looking for strong answers. And so I think there - now, is it going to work?

[00:17:34] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think a lot of your points are right on. I think for the actual plan, Mayor Harrell articulated seven bold goals for downtown Seattle - looking at the details of these goals, they're largely rehashes of things that have been previously announced, but bringing it together under one heading and one focus, I suppose. So wanting to make downtown safer and more welcoming, increased service provider outreach along Third Avenue - I think that's great to provide a 24 hour presence, if they're actually service providers and not just a crackdown and like we've seen before where police flood a block and then leave and really ultimately not many things change. Graffiti services - Mayor's really, really into graffiti removal - dealing with it there. But also, I think he is getting at some of the re-imagining of downtown and some of what he's talked about - talking about convening leaders to share strategies about return to office and hybrid work policies, incentivizing the development of childcare and education services downtown by allowing greater building heights when these facilities are included in new buildings, develop a life-at-night agenda to activate downtown businesses. When you - really, after reading many proposals by Mayor Harrell and realistically Mayor Durkan, it is notable when you read the actual plans - how much of them start with words like develop and hire and create. This is not an active initiative. This is basically - we're going to start to actually think about and do things. And it looks like they're great at launching these initiatives, but what results from them is another question. And I think people are waiting to see - and to your point, are frustrated at so much talk over years and years while watching these problems get worse, certainly not better in a lot of areas, and wanting to do something that moves the needle.

I also notice in these that it's - these problems that we're facing, that downtowns are facing, are substantial. They're going to require some really different action to get a different result. And things like - for childcare, we just received - there was a story written, I think, by Axios either this past week or the week before, talking about childcare in Seattle is now more expensive than college on an annual basis. It seems like with this crisis currently in process, more needs to be done for childcare affordability than allowing increased building heights in new development that's going to happen - that might make a difference in five or 10 years, maybe, but what are we doing to try and move the needle in the short term? What are we doing to ensure that we're going to get those results and not just hope for some trickle-down impact from tangential policies that aren't offensive to anyone. We're going to have to start making decisions that - moving one way or the other - are probably going to make some people unhappy, and I feel like there's a hesitance by some elected officials to do that. But what we've seen is that in the hesitance to make people unhappy, they're making people unhappy because problems have just persisted. So it's a challenge. We'll be following it along. There are some good things in here - and if they get this rolling, there's going to be some good things that result. But that's the big question here. What is the - is the implementation actually going to happen and what's going to result from it? So we will see what happens with that.

Also, want to talk about a poll that came out this week about Americans being ready to move on from highway expansion even if politicians aren't. A new poll showed that 82% of voters don't view highway expansion as the best solution for reducing congestion. This is certainly in line with data and evidence that we've seen here - expanding highways creates more traffic than it reduces and is induced demand - this is a thing that has happened. We can see all the expansions that we've had in this area - on 405, on I-5 - and traffic seems to be worse than ever. What's your view of this?

[00:21:46] Matt Driscoll: My take on the poll is that it does reflect, certainly, I think, a growing acknowledgement that we can't just continuously expanding our freeways until the end of time, until we have 27 lanes, and everyone can fit in their SUV single-occupancy to go to and from there. I think, and it's evidence-based, and so I do think there's much greater recognition of that - that we need alternatives to that. That being said, just to be honest with you from a Pierce County perspective - from working here and talking to people - the 82% seems incredibly high. From the folks I hear - this is a county that voted against Sound Transit 3 - historically is anti-Sound Transit. This is a community where congestion near I-5, or near the Tacoma Dome, and construction feels like it's been going on for most of our natural lives. And yet people, I still think - and I don't know the percentage of it, but county-wide - I still think that a significant portion of this place wants to see the bulk of our transportation money going to the traditional things like freeways and roads and all those sorts of things.

Now, the other thing about this poll is that it included - it was like expand our highways, freeways, or, and a bunch of different options - there were a bunch of other things that all got lumped into, Would this be better? - things like fish passage, and then mass transit, bus, those sorts of things. And so I think that probably impacts the numbers just a little bit, in that it was kind of like either you do freeway expansion or would any of these things or all these things together be better? And so I think that that probably contributed to the poll a little bit, although I know the conductors of the poll defended their methods there. But overall, just coming full circle, I think it matches with a growing sentiment that we need to do more than just build highways and expand highways. But still, in Pierce County, 82% - it seems high to me.

[00:24:03] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think there's a lot at play in this. I do think that seeing so many highway expansion projects with a promise of reducing congestion not do that over the last 20, 30 years - there's more skepticism. I also think it's significant that more people are recognizing just how much money we are spending on expansion while also not spending on maintenance. I think it has permeated into the public. People who are driving are driving on streets that often are not maintained well, that certainly aren't complete streets - they aren't maintained well for drivers, let alone everyone using the streets. And then on top of that, just looking at the expenses there - we're sitting here watching bridges fall down across the country, bridges closed locally for challenges, and saying that we have this huge backlog - we can't afford to maintain our bridges, we can't afford to maintain our roads. But we're talking about building new ones that are also going to increase the maintenance price tag - that just doesn't seem fiscally responsible at all. And I think as people are looking at the variety of things that we can't afford - we can't afford to feed kids free food in schools that we mandate they attend. We can't afford so many of the human services that we talk about. We can't afford transit - transit service we're watching being degraded, we're watching planned new light rail, new bus facilities be pushed back for decades sometimes. It just doesn't seem to be working. We don't seem to be spending our money in the right places and in the right way. And I think there is more popular awareness of that.

One of the most notable things I found in this poll is that 90% of the people polled drove regularly. This isn't a poll of lefties and people who just don't have cars, which some people use to just discount their opinions - Oh, you don't drive anyway, you don't know how important it is. This is not the case - this is everyone realizing and recognizing what a problem is. And also, I think it also helps that people got a taste of not having to commute during the pandemic, got a taste of - Hey, what if I didn't have to drive all the time? What if there was an alternative? What if I didn't have to brave rush hour all the time? What if we invested in these other things that make that more possible and everything more livable with this new way of life that we've entered into? - and cause people to do more reflection on their own perhaps. Maybe that is also accelerating it. There's a lot of maybes in here.

To your point, this does cover a lot of things. Not everything was that huge number, but we see over 65% of people agreeing with - providing people with more transportation options, it's better for health, safety, and economy. Expanding highways takes years, causes delays, and costs billions of dollars. More important to protect our quality of life than to spend billions of tax dollars on expanding highways. And no matter where you live, you should have the freedom to easily get where you need to go. So there are certainly some takeaways in here that people are feeling like there should be more options - not to the exclusion of cars - but certainly not only for cars and expanding highways in that one specific way. So very interesting to see. What I think is safe to say is that members of the public overall seem in a different place than our elected officials who are still seemingly operating from expand-it policies being great for everything. But it doesn't have the cachet that it used to, to say - I'm going to fix your traffic by expanding this highway. - it's not landing like it used to.

[00:28:01] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I agree with so much of that. I think your point about the maintenance, because it's unsexy, but I think your point about the maintaining what we have aspect of that whole is really important. I suspect that's - the reasons you talked about it are a big reason why that number was so high. And then also, again, just to come back to a theme so far in this show about progressives, big ideas, and then the impact when they fail to deliver. Obviously it's not over yet, but I can't help but think of Sound Transit here. It's like sitting here in Pierce County, we've been told for years - and in Tacoma we voted in favor - we need more options, we need this infrastructure, we need mass transit. And it's a progressive cause and it's politicized, and it gets pushed through. And then the carry through, follow through, frankly - just a disaster. It's just a disaster. And if you're sitting down here in Pierce County in Tacoma, and you're paying those car tabs every year and you're looking at what that has done and when that might do - and it's just - so again, it's just the plans are great, it's important, all that - but just the follow through and progressives just continued inability to nail the follow through for - again, and I think it ties in something you said earlier - it's just their hesitancy to upset people in a lot of cases. It just hamstrings these things and they end up big and stupid and dumb - and I voted in favor of it, I voted in favor of it again, but Sound Transit's dumb, man. It's just from down here, what we've got - and that might anger some people that I speak to regularly, and some people I consider friends, and some people I'm ideologically aligned with - but just from an average citizen perspective, it's unfortunate to see how it has played out and how it looks like it's gonna continue to play out, just because there's so much at stake in terms of public sentiment.

[00:30:13] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and just continuing down that tangent - one, I think this is another example of something that gets a progressive label, but you look at the policy, you look at the substance of it, and you look at the Sound Transit board itself - it skews moderate to conservative, and probably closer to conservative when you look at the composition of the entire board. And it shows in this policy, but of course, it is another thing that is wrapped in progressive policy. But beyond that, I don't think Pierce County voting down ST3, I don't think that Pierce County rejecting this iteration of transit necessarily means that Pierce County is anti-transit. What is really predictable is that if you sell someone something and say - I'm gonna deliver it next week - and then next week comes and you say - Okay well, actually next year, next decade - they're not gonna be happy to continue giving them money. People pay taxes with an expectation of benefits and services and things being provided in their community. If they are getting nothing back from that, if all they're doing is paying and watching other people get the benefits, they are not gonna be excited to do that.

This is just really, to me, common sense that you have to deliver for people. You have to give them what you sold them. Otherwise, they're going to be unhappy about it, and they're not gonna trust you the next time you come with something to sell them. This is what we're doing with our suburbs, with Pierce County with Sound Transit. Got lines open in Seattle and coming down through South County, the Eastside, going north - but the timeline of this is just absolutely absurd and keeps getting pushed back while people are currently paying for it. You have to deliver something if people are paying something. You, at minimum, have to deliver what you say you're going to, and they just aren't. And don't seem to care and seem to continue to push back stuff, instead of really sitting down and saying - What can we do to honor the commitment that we made? What can we do to deliver this needed service and infrastructure to these communities? They just say - Oh, that's fine if you wait. It's fine if you wait.

[00:32:26] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I guess that's the one thing that gets me about it too - is just the seeming not to care. They just seem so oblivious to it, or not even oblivious, but just dismissive of it, and it sticks in your craw. Not to re-litigate any of this, but I 100% agree with you. You charge people these sorts of taxes - you have to deliver all those sorts of things. Let us not forget that, right or wrong, a lot of people also felt misled about what the cost of this tax was going to be. Part of it was voter - I think they were transparent in terms of saying this was what it would cost for the average car, but I think what people don't - everyone thinks they have the average car. Everyone thinks they have the average car. People who are driving a two-year-old car think they have the average car. I drive a 2006 Chevy Malibu - sometimes I feel like I have the average car. I think people - a lot of people also felt like they were slightly misled about what the cost was going to be, and then however many years later, we don't really have anything to show with it, show for it, at least down here, and we keep getting told it's going to be longer and longer. I don't know. We could talk about this forever, but it's just disappointing to see the follow-through, or the lack thereof.

[00:33:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I think it's good to hear. Sometimes - just in Seattle - certainly, a lot to be desired with Sound Transit delivery, but there has been stuff that's already delivered. There is infrastructure that's there. What is frustrating to me is I see infrastructure that does exist going to Pierce County, like the heavy rail Sounder train, which is packed, right? It's not like there's an aversion to transit - what's available there is being heavily utilized. There just doesn't seem to be any acknowledgement or desire to continue to deliver there. It is certainly frustrating - and again, just the delivery is the most important aspect of this whole thing. If you don't do that, everything - everything - goes to waste, and the rhetoric that you use to do it matters.

On some more optimistic news this week, we got news that Washington is going to receive $1.2 billion to help address internet affordability and access to high-speed internet. What possibilities does this open up, and what will this do for Washington?

[00:35:05] Matt Driscoll: I'm by no means a high-speed internet expert, but I will say that this is and has been a huge issue down here in Pierce County. There are areas of this county - across the Narrows and some parts of the county - where the internet access is almost nonexistent. That creates major challenges for those communities, particularly - I know obviously it was a couple of years ago now - when you start talking about remote schooling, or even as you see an increase of remote work. The internet is like heat and water and gas. If you don't have internet, you are essentially disconnected from the world, disconnected from the way the world works. There are major areas of this county where the internet that we take for granted here in Tacoma would be revolutionary. I don't know all the specifics of the Biden administration's plan - and I don't think we have all the specifics yet in terms of how it might be applied in Washington and all those sorts of things - but I'm hopeful about it, and I think it's much needed. I think that the need to invest in internet infrastructure - certainly, I think we've talked about it a lot in some circles, but I think in the broader national conversation, maybe it hasn't got the attention it deserves. So hopefully this action raises the level of that a little bit and really highlights the importance of it.

But again, at the end of the day, at this point, I just think internet's a utility. Everyone deserves to have it - needs to have it - it's not a matter of whether you deserve it or not. It's essentially a necessity of life, whether you're applying for a job or banking. On your list, there was talk of accepting cash. And I know it's not exactly the same, but it's just the way our world works now. And when people don't have access to it, it creates disproportionate impacts, it harms vulnerable communities, it creates an uneven playing field. So anything we can do to expand that access and get people connected, I think is a good thing. And again, the test is going to be in how it's actually applied and what the rollout and end result looks like. But I don't know, you might be more tuned into this issue than I am. What's your take on this?

[00:37:43] Crystal Fincher: I agree with a lot of what you said. I agree with the Pierce County Council who deemed broadband internet to be essential infrastructure - absolutely necessary. It is necessary - to participate in our society today fully requires reliable internet access. And last numbers were that 6% of Washington homes still don't have reliable internet access at all, which 6% - that's a tiny percent. When you look at the amount of households in the state, those are so many people being left out and left behind and at a disadvantage in everything in our society - from just access to basic goods and services to employment and the type of work you can do, getting work to schooling. We saw these hybrid models and flexibility with school. Broadband access is absolutely necessary for learning, for homework, just on a regular basis. This is something really important to our society, so I'm excited that we see this investment. And I hope that we do more to solidify equitable access for people in the long term, not just to subsidize service from a couple carriers and provide subsidies. Not that there's no place for subsidies, but certainly the current structure is very beneficial to providers who barely have to compete with anyone. I hope that we do more to ensure flexible open access to allow more competition - certainly more last mile infrastructure investment and creation is needed. And certainly a lot of that will go towards this, but more flexible access, I hope, is a long term result from this.

[00:39:35] Matt Driscoll: Yeah - are you skeptical of the North Star of public-private partnership? Is that not the good thing I've been told it is - when governments and well-meaning for-profit businesses work together to meet the people's needs?

[00:39:53] Crystal Fincher: This is where I admit I've looked longingly at Tacoma for decades with your public utility that you've had there, which I think is the right way to approach this because it is necessary.

[00:40:05] Matt Driscoll: Which we tried to give away.

[00:40:06] Crystal Fincher: Yes.

[00:40:07] Matt Driscoll: Essentially. Just for the record.

[00:40:10] Crystal Fincher: There will always, always be some well-funded momentum towards privatization that needs to be addressed and fought against. But yes, I am skeptical of it because look at our system - I'm one of the lucky people with regular internet access, but it still goes out here frequently with no repercussions. There's no real competition. If you're lucky, you have to - the really lucky people have three choices, when there are hundreds of choices between providers for this overall. But we have this monopoly, duopoly system that is just not friendly. And so fitting within that framework is really what a public-private partnership at this point in time would be. And I just think it's a toxic framework that is not there for the benefit of consumers. It's there for the profit for these large corporations. And I don't think that has been serving us very well, especially when you look at other models internationally who are providing much, much higher speeds, much more reliable infrastructure at a much lower cost. But we're not there at this point here.

[00:41:23] Matt Driscoll: No, I agree with all that. And to the kind of - I think one of the most important points - that 6% you mentioned, doesn't seem like a lot of folks. But let's be honest about where those 6% of folks likely live and the challenges and the inequities they likely already face. And so it's just like the lack of internet access is just an exacerbating factor on many of the ways that they're already under-resourced and underserved. So it's really important and hopefully we get it right.

[00:41:56] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really important. I also think it's critical for rural communities. This is a humongous issue for our rural areas and just their ability to manage and survive and thrive, especially as some other traditional industries are struggling - that the ability to embrace new industries, to be competitive in our current local and global marketplace really needs broadband access and so many areas still don't have it.

[00:42:28] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, totally. And just for the, that's - rural communities are in part what I'm talking about, about being underserved. The inequities we see in Pierce County, in general, between rural communities and places that are more fluent and more urban - it's significant. We focus a lot, and rightfully so, on inequities we see in our cities and along demographics and those sorts of things. But the rural-urban divide in terms of what those folks, the services those folks have, what's available to them is - it's steep and it makes it much, much harder to have an even playing field if you're a - say, a kid that comes from a rural community.

[00:43:19] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And we will just close today talking about other good news - in my opinion, good news - which you alluded to before, which is the King County Council passed legislation to require businesses in unincorporated King County to take cash payments - because there are movements and some businesses have wanted to not take cash, to require electronic payment, which can disenfranchise a lot of people and keep a lot of people out. What's your view of this legislation?

[00:43:51] Matt Driscoll: Oh, this brings me back, actually. It's funny - somehow when I'm on the show, I always end up divulging more than I anticipated to - but so let me just say there was a time in my life, many years ago, where I didn't bank. And the reason I didn't bank is because I was, it's because I didn't have any money. It's because I was poor and it's because you run into continual issues with - and this was more at the start of the corporatization of banks and everything becoming a Bank of America or a Chase - but you run into the overdraft fees, pretty soon you owe $300 on your checking account and you don't have $300. And pretty soon you're just cashing your checks. And I lived like that for a significant amount of time. And it is hard, but it's also the reality that a lot of people face. There are very real reasons that traditional banking, or the cards, or swiping, or paying on my phone - people don't have access to it. And so I think the acknowledgement that we can't just leave folks out to dry and force them to use a system that frankly is oftentimes exploitative - banking just is. I'm a firm credit union guy now, but still, it's - I'm sure we've all heard a million times - it's very expensive to be poor. And this is just - the move toward not accepting cash, or card only, or electronic payment only - it's just another way, another burden that gets placed on folks who don't have a lot of money. So I'm happy to see it. I think you should be - frankly, I think you should be required to take cash. I don't think it should be optional.

I certainly understand with businesses who would consider it easier. This is another topic entirely, but there's a Subway sandwich shop by my house. And I think just in relation to crime or fears of crime, they've got a big sign up that says - Card only, we don't take cash. And I think there is part of it - a very small part of it - it's maybe kind of folks trying to grapple with that, but overall I think it's good news. Like you said, I think businesses should have to take cash. I think most comfortable Americans don't understand what it's like to not have a lot of money and how hard it actually is to access those sorts of things that a lot of people take for granted. And so I think it's good. I think it's an important acknowledgement.

[00:46:58] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree and appreciate your perspective on that. It's very important. I know Transit Riders Union did a lot of advocacy with that, so I appreciate that and congrats to them for helping to pass that. Thank you to the councilmembers - it passed on, by one vote. So appreciate the councilmembers who did vote on that. And it is very important. To your point, I think a lot of people don't realize how hard and how expensive it is to be poor. And that being poor is only a result of irresponsibility and bad morality - that is so far from the truth. And my goodness, the people who are poorest generally know where every single penny is going to a much greater degree than a lot of people who are comfortable that I know. It's not an issue of morality, it's not an issue of responsibility. It's an issue of poverty and inequality. And the way to address it is not to further disenfranchise people and to exclude people from society even more. So I'm certainly happy to see this legislation passed.

And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, June 30th - every week I say the date and it surprises me, time just evaporates. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful cohost today was metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll. You can find Matt on Twitter @mattsdriscoll, with two L's at the end. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. It really helps us out. You can get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.