Politics & Government

The Nose: Lobbying for tax money while buying a toy? Smooth, MultiCare!

Ever have a rich friend hit you up for money?

Your friend has a nice house and nice stuff, but asks for a loan — a big one. You think about it. Your friend presses. You think some more.

Later, your friend rolls up in fancy new wheels, all smiles, inviting you to take a look.

What’s that? Does the Sniff have friends like this? Of course! What do you think counterfeit money is for?

The county of Pierce and the city of Tacoma also have friends like this: namely, the MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan Health, the two biggest health care dogs on the local block, and partners in a plan to build a $40 million, 120-bed psychiatric hospital in the city. Collectively, the two nonprofits (cough cough) are worth a cool $22 billion, according to their 2013 financial statements.

Back in December 2014, when the psych hospital idea was announced, cheers rang throughout Pierceland — first, because the beds were desperately needed; second, because the two health-care rivals teamed up and promised to pay for the entire thing themselves. Great happiness!

Back in December 2014, when the psych hospital idea was announced, cheers rang throughout Pierceland -- first because the beds were desperately needed, second because the two health-care rivals teamed up and promised to pay for the entire thing themselves. Great happiness!

After that, something happened to dampen local spirits. The partners visited local governments, businesses and well-heeled donors and started poor-mouthing. Instead of paying for the psych hospital in full, the partners said they needed help: donations, local backing, public money.

How much?

Half the startup cost — as in $20 million.

Huh? Wha?

Complicated, the partners explained: Inflation. No expected profit in the first few years of operation.

Local governments, including Tacoma and Pierce County, were slightly taken aback. Finding public money in a time of shrinking budgets meant heavy lifting, deal-cutting and public votes some pols weren’t sure they wanted to take.

The partners kept sounding the alarm. “We can’t pull it off without help,” a backer of the psych hospital proposal told County Council members in October, fishing for a budget line item.

So guess what happened on Nov. 17? Lo and behold, MultiCash — oops, MultiCare — announced its purchase of a pair of Spokane-area hospitals for $425 million.

The partners kept sounding the alarm. “We can’t pull it off without help,” a backer of the psych hospital proposal told County Council members in October, fishing for a budget line item. So guess what happened on Nov. 17? Lo and behold, MultiCash — oops, MultiCare — announced its purchase of a pair of Spokane-area hospitals for $425 million.

Look at the number again: $425 million. The Sniff is famously lousy at math, but it’s no strain to figure out MultiCare’s new toy in Spokane cost 10 times as much as the planned $40.6 million psych hospital in T-town. Plus, the original partnership proposal with CHI Franciscan included the idea of splitting the cost of the psych hospital. More easy math: $20 million apiece, for a pair of entities worth a combined $22 billion.

You gotta wonder whether MultiCare’s leaders told any of their spokespeople and backers that this Spokane deal was coming — let alone their frenemies at CHI Franciscan. Because it just got a heckuva lot harder to hold a cardboard woe-is-me sign at the donor freeway ramp and persuade local governments to fork over spare change.

Roach watch: It’s time for a Beatles singalong! Today’s tune is “Hello, Goodbye,” dedicated to Pam Roach, winner of a close race for a Pierce County Council seat.

That’s the “hello” part, but hold on, fans! You can’t sing the “goodbye” part until Roach resigns her long-held state Senate seat, which hasn’t happened yet.

Refresher: Roach hinted earlier in the year that she might try holding both offices at the same time. She backed away from the idea last month, and said she’d give up her comfy chair in Olympia if she won the council seat.

“I have removed the issue,” Roach said. “It’s not an issue anymore.”

Hmm ... seems like it kind of IS an issue until it actually isn’t, which means actually resigning and leaving no room for doubt. Plus, Roach said she backed a county charter amendment that prohibited holding two offices at once, and voters went for it by a crushing margin.

Presumably, Senator Pam will give up the stage for Councilwoman Pam — after all, she said she would. Plus, someone’s got to fill that comfy Senate chair in Olympia and book up for the coming legislative session. The replacement process is a sticky deal decided by the Pierce and King County councils, known for lightning-quick decisions and harmonious relations.

Apart from all that, nothing tries the patience more than waiting to holler a chorus while the lead singer dithers. Cue the music, Pam!

Merritt-based? Look out, Tacoma! Local architect Art Vandelay — oops, Jim Merritt — is running for mayor again.

Jocular Jim announced his second shot last week. He tried for the Big Gavel back in 2009, losing narrowly to Marilyn Strickland, who can’t run again due to term limits. Merritt also briefly tried for a seat in the state House of Representatives back in 2012, but withdrew only a week after announcing, lamenting a lack of support among local pols.

“The one thing that I am most taken aback by is really how lock-step the elected and retired elected officials are,” Merritt said that year. “And that is sad. After 30 years of volunteering with them and supporting them, you think you’re on the same team. But this has been quite a revelation time for me.”

You can’t deny Merritt’s local cred. He said it himself, in a sonorous campaign announcement: “Jim is a hometown person.”

You can’t deny Merritt’s local cred. He said it himself, in a sonorous campaign announcement: “Jim is a hometown person.”

Admittedly, his fingerprints are all over T-town, from the rehabilitated Union Station to the flap over designs for a new Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square. He’s always been big on historic preservation. Merritt also waved his flag against the proposed Methanol Plant That Would Have Eaten Tacoma, a move that suggested a sudden populist conversion.

Will that stuff play? Merritt doesn’t have any announced opponents yet, but vague campaign-ish noises are coming from City Council members Victoria Woodards and Robert Thoms. Both might have their own plans that don’t include Merritt. Get ready for another test of local political alliances, free of all rancor, marked by sweet civility, just like always — the treadmill never stops.

Got news for The Nose? Write to TheNose@thenewstribune.com. Twitter: @thenosetribune

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