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Ron Sims' maverick phase

He's increasingly isolated politically and has his eye on global problems. On the other hand, he is turning into a rarity: a fearless foe of conventional wisdom who matters.
Former King County Executive Ron Sims.

Former King County Executive Ron Sims.

And so it begins — the drip, drip, drip of cuts in government budgets as tax revenues shrink. You can't enact broad-based tax increases because of voter reactions and Tim Eyman initiatives. So you tap rainy-day funds (as Gov. Chris Gregoire has just proposed), you freeze hiring and pay, make across-the-board cuts, promise key constituent groups that they'll be rewarded handsomely when the money returns, and try to muddle through. This drags out the agony and uncertainty for years. Here we go again.

One of the most extreme cases is King County, which has steadily shrinking revenue as urban areas opt out of the county's oversight to create independent cities — but rising costs from such budget-busters as jails (522 unionized and angry jail guards), courts, hospitals, and public health. It has added up to a $90 million shortfall for the 2009 budget, now undergoing review by County Executive Ron Sims and the County Council. This week, just days before his budget is due, Sims has asked employees to agree to reduce their expected automatic cost-of-living adjustments from 5-6 percent to 3 percent, saving $15 million. Other steps by the county involve redefining criminal justice costs to shift them to the City of Seattle and seeking relief from the Legislature. Not pretty.

Many wonder if Sims has been minding the store. This last-minute proposal recalls his 11th-hour effort to get Sound Transit to fund increased Metro bus service. That was firmly slapped down. Compounding the public rebuke, both Pierce and Snohomish county executives were extracting other concessions in exhange for supporting Proposition 1, the current Sound Transit bond issue. Sims is estranged from Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, current chair of the Sound Transit Board, and from many on the board due to his switcheroo in opposing last year's Proposition 1 (the rails-and-roads proposal). Ever since, Sims has been a pariah, and he's reacted by becoming more unpredictable and independent.

I recently had a talk with Sims and asked him if he was "casting about," as many think. Not at all, he replied, and went into a long speech about his worldwide efforts at combatting global warming, cutting-edge work in water quality in Thailand, and battling workplace depression by letting people work in satellite centers (like Lynnwood) that cut down stressful commuting. Through his long public career, Sims has always been a fount of visionary ideas, but now he's a true geyser.

The more he talked about solving worldwide problems, the more he sounded like he wanted to run the Gates Foundation. It made me suspect, as many do, that he had grown less interested in mundane county matters but was unwilling to admit it.

Might Sims be interested in a federal job, assuming Sen. Barack Obama wins? He brushed that idea off, saying that he wouldn't want to have so many layers of bosses as part of the federal government. Better, he said, "to continue to find new and innovative ways to deal with the future" and solve big local problems like Puget Sound cleanup and making people feel more comfortable with density by bringing out the unspoken anxieties about race.

Sims insists he'll run for a new term as county executive in 2009, a job he's held since 1996. He was easily reelected in 2001 and 2005, but now he faces the likelihood of a tough race and a Democratic challenger, likely Queen Anne County Councilman Larry Phillips. One key will be whether Republicans come up with a serious challenger. (Dino Rossi? County Councilman Reagan Dunn? Business leader John Stanton?) Or whether Sims' longtime support from developers will deter such a candidate. If not, the Democratic challenger to Sims would survive the top-two primary into the general election and could collect all the anti-Sims votes.

One of the issues Sims would like to stick around to fight for is transit. He's opposed to the current Sound Transit ballot measure, though he's being quiet about it. Sims thinks that this year (with financial anxieties and now the Boeing strike) is a bad time to try to pass a measure that he feels is too tilted toward rail and too expensive. In the expected re-do of the measure, Sims would push to modify the sub-area equity aspects that guarantee to outlying counties rail and express bus service equal to the taxes they contribute. That's an awkward way to plan a system, shorting the dense areas best for rail and running lots of empty buses in affluent exurbs. But it is also the political reality of how you tap a broad tax base in an area that distrusts Seattle. As head of Metro's bus system, he'll be battling against calls for a regional transportation authority, which would take away more of his dwindling empire. He favors a surface-transit solution to the Alaskan Way Viaduct. He likes tolls and demand management as a solution to fund roads. And he wants a big "cultural amenities fund" for the county to administer, using expiring stadium taxes. All these ideas are long shots, but they are vintage Sims: leading with his chin.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Oct 10, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Ron Sims and Sound Transit Prop. 1: County Executive Sims was entirely correct to oppose ST's Prop. 1 last year. It was a dog. He's the ultimate ST insider. He knows what's going on. He spoke the truth about how it would be in his constituents' best interests to reject it.

He was right then, and he's right now. The current ST Prop. 1 also needs to be soundly rejected.

According to Mr. Brewster, speaking out against Prop. 1 made Sims a "pariah" in the eys of Phillips and Nickels. That says more about them than it does of Sims, and what it says about them is not good.

He's certainly not a pariah in the eyes of the voters in the Sound Transit taxing area. Fully 25% more no votes were cast than yes votes last year. It is clear a good solid majority of us are pariahs as far as Nickels and Phillips are concerned.

Posted Fri, Oct 10, 10:45 a.m. Inappropriate

ST and "Subarea Equity": In the expected re-do of the measure, Sims would push to modify the sub-area equity aspects that guarantee to outlying counties rail and express bus service equal to the taxes they contribute.

Where to begin . . ..

For starters, the proposed local law ST put on next month's ballot would eliminate the existing local law's requirements that mandate equitable spending by subarea.

That new "ST2" measure would eliminate the subarea budgeting terms ST now must operate under. It would do that by amending the 1996 voter-approved finance plan. Those key taxpayer-protection terms voters imposed on ST in 1996 that would go away can be found in two of the five documents which collectively comprise the local law now governing ST's legal rights (those two documents are the May, 1996 version of Res. 72 App. A, and Res. 75).

If the new measure passes, the ST board in the future would be free to adopt spending policies that bear no relation whatsoever to the amount of tax taken out of the several subareas. Further, adopting new spending policies unrelated to the amount of tax collected from any subarea wouldn't require voter approval.

ST is trying with THIS ballot offering to get rid of the legal constraints on it relating to subarea equity. The suggestion by the author of this piece that ST wouldn't try to pull that move on voters before the next "re-do" is flat wrong.

Posted Fri, Oct 10, 4:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Whats the King Co budget size ?: isn't it in the several billion dollar area ? And the "exec" is having trouble with 90 or so million ?

why is SOOO much of the budget off limits to cuts ???

and now that the planet has begun a prolonged period of global COOLING, how do such local leaders that were the champions of CO2 stupidity now explain the dollars waisted to date ???

Posted Sat, Oct 11, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Sims has just lost touch: Yikes, David! Ron Sims a maverick? Isn't that just a nice way of saying he's lost touch with his community and reality?

And, Steptoe Fan, the total KC budget is almost $5 billion, but only $660 million or so is in the general fund (i.e. money that the Council and Exec can move around at will). Why is the other money off limits to cuts? For the most part, it's because of state law, although sometimes it's federal or county law. There's nothing Sims or anybody else can do to grab that money and give it to the Sheriff.
J.R.

Posted Sat, Oct 11, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Sims spends entirely too much time on other people's situations, like the viaduct, like Seattle Center, like most of his "ideas", while the County backs its way into a downturn in the economy . The areas that insist on becoming towns and cities still rely on the county for services.
Rather than resolve that Sims looks for new and exciting ways to suck tax money out of hotel taxes so he can decorate the back yards of his political backers.
He, like Nick Licata, might want to think about something new to do next year that involves being unemployed. People that actually want to do the work are likely going to be more appealing to the voters.

Mr Baker

Posted Sun, Oct 12, 2:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Darnell Coles is still trying to redeem himself for passionately defending the inexcusible accountability-free monorail board's junk bond dependent finance plan. Funny how far the radical mind can swing a pendulum.

The Seattle media - and Crosscut - have ignored one big story regarding Metro Transit's recent financial meltdown. Apparently, nobody has been able to connect the dots between jam-packed Seattle buses unable to keep up with demand (hello....high capacity transit) and near-empty suburban buses enjoying Ron Sims' absurd policy change nearly 8 years ago, which started allocating new service based on geography and political whims.

As opposed to transit demand.

And now Sims wants to apply the policies which nearly bankrupted Metro Tramsit...to Sound Transit. How wonderful.

Imagine a world where government expenditures were pegged to need. Radical, I know.

In my view, the RTA has found a proper balance between subarea equity and geographic/political needs through an approach centered on corridors and subarea needs. How appropriate flakes like Sims and rabid anti-transit ideologues like Digg Newsvine would want to blow that up.

Digg Newsvine pretends to be a watchdog, but he consistently ignores every elephant in every room, so long as the elephant doesn't satisfy his multi-decade personal pet obsession: killing off light rail.

Posted Tue, Oct 14, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate


Maverick, eh?

He pretty much washed his hands of Light Rail calling it "wrong for the region".

So is he going to buck the egregious 20 billion tax levy and bring sense to transit (that is, shut down the light rail and fund buses)?

Yeah...right...

jabailo

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