I know it's fashionable to bash former Seattle Monorail Project Executive Director Joel Horn these days. Heck, I'm a member of the Monorail Taliban, and even I called on Horn to resign after I got a look at his $11 billion "creative financing" bill ["CounterIntel," June 30]. However, Horn was right about one thing: a little theory he used to peddle over drinks—a theory he labeled "MVET envy."
Horn was always a touch paranoid about the machinations of the anti-monorail crowd. (And with powerful opponents like Second Avenue property owners, Sound Transit cultists at the county, and savvy paid consultants at Gogerty Stark Marriott, who can blame him?) But Horn's paranoia did put him onto a smart theory. Horn believed that the big political guns in town—like the folks at the chamber of commerce—had a vested interest in stoking the monorail opposition because the chamber coveted the monorail's Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET). Business interests wanted the MVET to fund the Regional Transportation Improvement District (RTID) which goes to roads projects, rather than going to public transit like monorail. (Sound Transit—100 percent over budget on construction to get to the University District—also suffers from MVET envy.)
Smoking-gun proof of Horn's theory that MVET envy was a rallying point for monorail opposition arrived several days prior to the $11 billion news in a June 17 e-mail from Seattle Chamber President Steve Leahy. Writing to a slew of downtown power brokers at places like Preston Gates & Ellis, KeyBank, WaMu, and Boeing, Leahy said: "A major concern I have... is that monorail financing is dependent on the MVET. This is the same tax that the RTID is hoping to base their plan on... I think it is highly unlikely that Seattle taxpayers, who are already paying a high MVET for the monorail, are going to vote another MVET tax on themselves for RTID. So to put it bluntly, we have a collision in the making. So far the chamber has stayed neutral on the monorail. I think that period of neutrality needs to come to an end..."
It looks to me like the monorail is coming to an end anyhow, but one way for monorail fans to honor the monorail's legacy is to stand up to the chamber: Don't let the MVET fund anything other than public transit.
In two of the four monorail votes—and in that final 63.5 to 36.5 percent vote—Seattle overwhelmingly said it supports paying MVET taxes for public transit. Sensing that the legislature and Mayor Nickels are going to line up with the chamber and go after the MVET to fund roads projects like the viaduct, Council Members Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, and County Council Member Dwight Pelz have all told me they will not support any plan that appropriates the MVET for nonpublic transit projects. It's the smartest and most hopeful thing I've heard yet to rise from the ashes of the monorail debacle.
I hate to agree with famously anti-monorail Council Member Conlin on anything, but I imagine he also hates to agree with Joel Horn. ■