Wednesday, November 3, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

We should agree to abide by this monorail vote

The monorail vote is over. Let's abide by the outcome.

As I write, I don't know what the outcome is. But I keep running into people who want to keep fighting even if they lose.

This is most obviously a problem if recall succeeds. Monorail boosters seem to think that because they've had three votes already, a fourth shouldn't count. "I'll take the best three out of five," said Monorail Now spokesman Peter Sherwin at CityClub last week. Dan Savage, editor of The Stranger, declared, "This vote is illegal."

A judge had said that. King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez had ruled that Initiative 83 violated the state Growth Management Act, which protects "essential public facilities." Under his interpretation of the law, it is OK for the public to create monorail by initiative but not OK to cancel it by the exact same process. Gonzalez would have forbidden yesterday's vote, but other judges, in the appellate courts, thought otherwise. (We have not heard from the Washington Supreme Court.)

How many times are we to vote on monorail? The political answer is that we are the stockholders. We own it. We can vote as often as we like. The practical answer is that yesterday's vote is the last one for the Green Line, because the Seattle Monorail Authority is ready to sign a contract and sell bonds. And once it does that, bondholders must be served.

That was illustrated Friday morning in the courtroom of King County Judge Mary Yu. Sound Transit was arguing that the agency could ignore Initiative 776. Passed statewide in 2002, Initiative 776 repealed Sound Transit's 0.4 percent car-tabs tax. But in 1999, Sound Transit had pledged that tax to cover bonds, and attorney Desmond Brown argued that the agency had to collect the full amount of the tax until the last bond is paid off — in 2028.

Initiative sponsor Tim Eyman, 38, slumped over on the back bench, was disgusted. "I'll be 62 years old by then," he said.

Don't bet on I-776 when Yu rules next week. The state's attorney, Jim Pharris, was supposed to defend I-776, but on this matter of the bonds, he said, he had to agree with Sound Transit. Once a tax is pledged to a bond, he said, there is no precedent in the law for repeal or even for such halfway measures as cutting the tax rate or confining the proceeds to bond repayment.

For monorail, all this means yesterday's vote on the monorail was it. If recall fails, the Green Line project will go forward — and should go forward. If recall succeeds, says former Mayor Charlie Royer, a monorail opponent, supporters should concede "the project is dead."

From the monorail camp came the determination not to concede anything, no matter how the people voted. They would go back to court and get the people's vote thrown out. And that brings up another story, that of Safeco Field.

On Sept. 19, 1995, the people of King County voted on a proposal to raise the sales tax by 0.1 point to pay for 81 percent of a new baseball stadium. Baseball fans were in high fever; the team was on a roll and the owners were threatening to take it out of town. But the measure failed, 245,418 "yes" to 246,500 "no."

And they built the stadium anyway. Younger voters will not believe this, but it is true. The people voted "no," and the entire ruling class of Seattle gallumphed to Olympia and changed it to a "yes." Attention then shifted to the King County Council, which was expected to OK a 0.5 percent sales tax on restaurant food. (New tax; same stadium.) Only three independent-minded council members, all gone now, voted no: Brian Derdowski, Kent Pullen and Maggie Fimia.

Fimia, now a Shoreline councilwoman, remembers that day. "You wouldn't believe the backlash," she said. "Initiative 695 (the first $30-tabs measure) is what came back."

The establishment's dismissal of the people's vote on the baseball stadium is what got Tim Eyman into politics. I wonder what would be the consequence of ignoring the voters on monorail, no matter which way the vote goes.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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