by Erica C. Barnett and Sandeep Kaushik

State Sen. Jim Horn, R-Mercer Island, doesn't like to speak badly of his political enemies. He lets a January 8 Seattle Times editorial, hanging on the wall of his Olympia office, do the talking for him. The editorial, which ran the day after King County Executive Ron Sims announced he would push to include light rail funding in a regional transportation package that could go before voters in November, says light rail is "the wrong approach" for the region, and excoriates Sims and other Sound Transit directors for attempting to tack their light rail tax increase onto the regional package's coattails.

Horn has long been a popular whipping boy for the pro-light-rail forces. As head of the senate's transportation committee, the 61-year-old Republican has been the primary roadblock to Seattle Democrats (like Sims) who want the legislature to hand Sound Transit a piece of the regional funding pie. Currently, the authorizing legislation for the regional tax package, which Horn authored, does not allow it to pay for light rail. Last week, Horn says, Sims dropped by to lobby him on his light rail proposal. But judging from Horn's comments during a recent conversation with The Stranger, the stalwart roads advocate wasn't swayed by Sims' billion-dollar pitch.


You're obviously under a lot of political pressure to allow light rail as part of this package. Isn't it worth giving in on Sound Transit if it means the package has a chance?

Sound Transit doesn't help the vote--it drags it down. If Sound Transit thought they had the vote to go to the ballot the whole time, they'd have gone to the ballot already. So it's obvious they don't have the vote.

[Former King County Council Member] Cynthia Sullivan, [county executive candidate] Dave Earling, up in Snohomish County, and Mary Gates, a longtime city council member down in Federal Way, all got defeated [in November]. I think all those are in large part because of their association with light rail. People are beginning to recognize that light rail is not helping the congestion problem.

Obviously I want to solve the problem. What I don't want to get into is what I would call transportation terrorism, where in order to spend a dollar on a problem you've got to spend 50 cents on a non-problem [like light rail]. I've got too many needs to not spend the money on what the problem is. [A statewide] commission had identified $42 billion worth of transportation needs. Of that, $32 billion was in the [King, Pierce, and Snohomish County] region. So we had to figure out some way that the people who had the wealth and the need could tax themselves to fix the problem. So we've gone through a process.


Why is the package so roads-heavy?

The problem is congestion. So the thing that is needed is infrastructure. This is geared toward highways of statewide significance. Now, a lot of people would quickly call that a road. But what this is, is a corridor that has multiple uses. It carries the automobile, it carries motorcycles, it carries the delivery trucks, it carries big semi trucks for freight, and it carries buses. It does include buses, if they're part of the need in that corridor.


The conventional wisdom is that any regional tax package has to have heavy support in pro-transit Seattle. Can this package pass without a bigger transit component?

If I put a ballot issue out there that is so biased that it gets a 70 percent vote in the Seattle area, it's like I'm taxing everybody else to supplement this area, and it's time that we said we can't afford ballot issues like that anymore. We have to have a ballot issue that's more uniform, that gets more than a 50 percent vote in the suburbs and still gets close to a 50 percent vote in the Seattle area. Assuming the [regional package planners] pick good projects, and I think they will, I think that the people will support it.

What happens if the regional package fails? Is there a Plan B for fixing the region's transportation problems?

First off, you need to go back [and look at what happened to] Sound Transit. It didn't pass the first time. So whether this passes the first time or not, it doesn't mean it's the end of the world, or that the concept is so bad. If you didn't get the projects right, you can go back and work on it.

barnett@thestranger.com

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