This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
I’ve been remiss in not commenting on Ron Sims’ guest op-ed in the Seattle Times coming out against the Roads and Transit package.
There’s no point in sugar-coating it: this is a substantial setback for the “Yes” campaign. As executive of Washington’s largest county — the county that stands the most to benefit from the investments in the package — Sims’ opposition is significant. He’s a credible progressive voice, and, as a former Sound Transit board member, he needs to be taken seriously.
STB does a good job of dissecting the nuts and bolts of Sims’ argument, so I won’t go through them here. The counterintuitive gist of Sims’ argument amounts this: “we’re running out of time to solve our transportation problems, so we need to slow down!”
He has a point. The funding for this plan is frustratingly slow. In order to collect enough money to start construction, we have to basically wait a decade. But Sims needs to offer more solutions for this. Why is it so slow? What factors do we need to change to speed it up? He doesn’t say.
Now, we know that Sims has been very concerned about regressive taxes, and he’s been a key voice in calling for a statewide income tax to make the tax burden more level. That’s the kind of fundamental reform that’s needed before we can even begin to think about more aggressive financing for transportation projects. But he avoids this altogether in his op-ed.
Reading Kerry Murakami’s backstory on Sims in the P-I, I’m struck by just how liberated he must be right now. Having tried, and failed, to capture the Governorship, and with two relatively young and well-entrenched Democratic Senators in our state, there’s really no where else for the man to go, politically (Transportation Secretary in an Obama administration??). So he’s free to think big, from congestion pricing to surface-street solutions for the Viaduct (which, as Josh Feit noted, was a “kooky” idea until Sims got behind it).
But ideas are not the problem in this state. We’re a hotbed of innovation. The problem is knocking heads and bringing interest groups together to agree on something, anything. I personally think the Roads and Transit package is that thing. It’s not perfect, but it works. If Sims wants to dedicate his time to something else, I wish him godspeed. I certainly share his values, and so I imagine I’ll support what he proposes. But at some point we need to stop dreaming and start digging.
Update: I have more, somewhat coherent thoughts on the global warming angle over at Bruno and the Prof.