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Originally published September 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 27, 2007 at 2:04 AM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Sims won't follow others down this long, expensive road

In the politics of the monster-sized roads-and-transit package on the November ballot, only one kind of behavior is permitted: chirpy, bobblehead-like...

In the politics of the monster-sized roads-and-transit package on the November ballot, only one kind of behavior is permitted: chirpy, bobblehead-like support.

It is unkosher, almost verboten, to be a civic leader and say something derogatory about the $18 billion package. (I know, it's either $18 billion or $38 billion, depending on who and how you ask.)

That makes it all the more extraordinary that the executive of the largest county, with some of the largest projects and largest sums of cash to be raised, announces today that he opposes the plan.

King County Executive Ron Sims will not support Proposition 1, the road and Sound Transit expansion project, though he was one of the biggest boosters of earlier Sound Transit light rail. He has thought long and hard about the proposal and decided to vote no. (See Sims' commentary on the adjoining page.)

Most "goo goos" (good-government types) in three counties — King, Pierce and Snohomish — rally around the proposal with arguments as underwhelming as, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good"; "It's the best we can get"; and, "We've simply got to do something."

Zagging while others are zigging, Sims says he can't live with himself if he doesn't say what is on his mind. Last week, Sims said he was neither for or against the proposal. The truth is, he opposes it and has felt that way a long time.

Hooray for Sims for having the guts to come out and say something daring and different in a regional culture that promotes silence and boosterism, and has little use for contrariness.

The largest tax package in state history has surprisingly few people willing to put their face on it. King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson is hawking it. Gov. Christine Gregoire supports it. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels sent a letter supportive of the plan to other mayors.

Many other politicos seem to be holding their breath, shrugging their shoulders, bobbing their heads yes, but in a way that says, "We'll just see if voters buy this thing."

Not Sims. Not today.

"This plan is inadequate," he writes. "We need to focus on bold solutions that offer immediate relief and a better tomorrow. ... Until we have real transportation solutions, I'm a 'no' vote."

Sims began describing his concerns about the package last summer. He held back because he didn't want another regional spat like the huge city-state imbroglio over the Alaskan Way Viaduct. But he is out now, ready to accept the fallout.

"I know the rules regarding speaking out. I know what is going to happen to me," Sims said. "There is no free lunch in this town so I am going to get hit really hard."

Sims' opposition follows three general tracks. First, he worries more than two dozen road projects and plans for light rail do not mesh with his enormous concerns about global warming. He is truly, deep down, troubled that he speaks nationally on the topic and then might be considered a silent supporter of this tax measure.

"I'm not against roads, I am not against transit," he explained in an interview. "This package will not help fight global warming."

Sims also calls the .6 percent sales-tax increase to 9.5 percent in King County, (10 percent in bars and restaurants) regressive and harmful to poor people.

Additionally, Sims says some light rail is being built in the wrong place, specifically from Sea-Tac Airport to Tacoma, at a very high cost per passenger.

Sims is a big supporter of congestion pricing, which, he believes, really does address global warming because it changes motorists' behavior.

Personally, I am still considering Proposition 1. If I had to vote tomorrow, I would vote no, because of affordability. In the effort to create a package that attracts more than 50 percent of voters, good proposals have been added to other good proposals. Packagers, I fear, had to add too much — the proposal is just too darn big.

Last year, Seattle voters approved $365 million in taxes for roads and bridges. King County voters agreed to spend $50 million a year for 10 years to expand bus service. It is not exactly as if we are tightwads. In the process of a lot of agreeing to these and other voter-approved measures, however, we are pricing the middle class out of our cities and suburbs.

Instead of railing against Sims, thank him for his candor and outspokenness on the most important local public-policy decision of the year — yes, even if you are the biggest booster in town for the project.

Sims has an informed, important position he is willing to share. To me, that is called leadership.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is jbalter@seattletimes.com; for a podcast Q&A with the author, go to Opinion at seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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