Erica C. Barnett: Tell me a little bit about how you differ from your opponent and fellow state legislator Ross Hunter.
Fred Jarrett: I'm an airplane guy, and he's a software guy. I think the big difference is in our backgrounds and our styles. I joke about that, but that is a real difference. I spent 35 years at Boeing, mostly in management, trying to change the way that we manage the company and figure out how we can become competitive and build planes for less than Airbus does. I've spent a lot of time in an organization that is already there and in need of change and modernization, and I think that's what the county needs.
That sounds very similar to what Ross told me—that the county needs business experience.
I've also got 30 years as an elected official. I've done schools, transportation. I got my start, in a sense, with Mercer Island [planning for] I-90. I was chair of the Metro Transit Committee and chair of the joint regional planning committee that put the plan together. I was on the King County growth management policy committee, the committee that put the planning policies in place that all of the cities had to follow... I have a wealth of experience in the public sector as well as private. You can't run government like a business... What government has is a problem of setting priorities and keeping its focus. I've heard Ross talk about how he's impatient—and I think that's an admirable quality when you're a project manager, but it's not exactly what you need when you're trying to change an organization.
Do you think King County has a spending problem?
They've increased their spending by about three or four times what the rate of inflation has been over the last few years. Their revenue forecasts were right on the money, but their spending forecasts were way conservative in terms of what they ended up doing. It's the same with health-care costs. I think there is a problem with trying to do more things than you have the resources to do, and not doing any of them as well as you should be doing them. That's the initial thing we need to focus on.
And how would you deal with what many at the county describe as a structural revenue problem?
I think there are some structural problems around their revenue sources, but there are solutions to those that the county council and county executive have decided not to take. While they are limited to 1 percent property-tax growth [each year], they're able to go out and ask the voters if the voters will want those services. They haven't done that, because they know they'll lose. They haven't made the case to the voters that those services are important. When I was on the Mercer Island City Council, we added 50 percent to our property-tax levy, and we got a 65 percent yes vote on it because we were able to articulate the need. The county has not... been taking care of its principal responsibilities.
Can you give an example?
For example: Why would they invest their time and energy in creating a ferry system when they haven't gotten the bus system operating correctly or working as well as it should? One of the things we did in the legislature was we took money away from the ferry district and gave it to Metro so the county could make up those losses.
What about annexing unincorporated areas that use more than their share of county services?
I was elected to the city council on Mercer Island in 1979. My first year, I went down to the Puget Sound council of governments, and I was put on a task force to look at regional services financing. I went back to the council and I was really impressed that I'd been given this wonderful assignment to be on this task force. I crowed about it one night at the council meeting, and a guy who'd been there 15 years said "That's great—they put me on that the first year I was on the council, too." So this problem has been around for a long time. If that's part of the structural problem, then that's what we need to change.
So how do you suggest solving that problem? Ross Hunter says the cities should be forced to annex adjacent unincorporated areas.
The problem with that is that the county has not provided the infrastructure. If Renton takes over West Hill, they'll have to spend $4 million a year for the next 20 years to bring that area up to standard for Renton, which is a significant amount of the capital budget of a city like Renton. Ross is right, we need to do that and we need to rationalize those services... One of biggest impediments to incorporation is people who live in unincorporated areas and don't want to be part of cities. The law says you can't annex an area if the people in that area don't want to be annexed. The county needs to say, we can't provide services if the revenue isn't there. And they need to tell the people in those unincorporated areas, when you go into a city, in most cases, your taxes actually go down because you have a commercial base.
Do you think the 40-40-20 Metro allocation formula (in which the suburbs get 80 percent of new Metro service and Seattle gets 20 percent) is working?
I don't think that's the way to allocate service. I think it's a mistake. It balkanizes the region, and I think it makes Metro inefficient. I think the point of Metro is to be able to provide mobility to people in the region, and it needs to be concentrated where it works. Where it works is places like downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Southcenter, SeaTac, and the University District. We need to focus on making sure that people who go to those areas get quality transit service that supports our land-use plan, which is to have more transit service in denser areas. I think we have places where there are buses that are running relatively empty. One of the things you hear from people in the suburbs is that the transit service isn't frequent enough and that it isn't working for their area. On some routes, that's true, but on others, it really isn't true.
How do you feel running against Ross Hunter, a frequent legislative ally and close friend?
It's kind of like when you and your best friend fall in love with the same woman. I don't think it's strange or difficult or awkward... I was disappointed that he decided to run, because I had been under the impression that he wasn't going to run. On the other hand, it's a campaign. I have my skills; he has his. It's a job interview, and people are going to be able to make a choice. The positive thing that I really do appreciate is that he's going to bring another voice to the idea that we need to change the way King County is managed. The more we can get those ideas out there, the more that will change the way the next county executive approaches the job, whoever ultimately gets elected.