Call His Bluff

There are a group of state, King County people and Seattle City Council people who insist that the cost overrun provision on the tunnel is meaningless. They stand in stark contrast with Mayor McGinn, and most of the non-Seattle legislators who support the cost overruns provision. And they keep getting angrier and angrier at McGinn for keeping his campaign promise to oppose the cost overrun provision. They think (perhaps with reason) that it’s an excuse to go back on his saying he wouldn’t oppose the tunnel itself.

But don’t believe Governor Gregoire, Exec Constantine, or any legislator or City Council member who says that Seattle won’t be on the hook for cost overruns while they keep acting like Seattle will be on the hook for those cost overruns. The state, the county especially, but also the city council all have had the opportunity to call McGinn’s bluff and instead have insisted on poisoning the well. This may be good politics, but if they want the project to go forward without the mayor trying to block it, it’s not in the interest of their policy.

A quick recap: a few weeks before the mayoral election, the city council passed an ordinance that McGinn felt (or said at the time he felt) hemmed Seattle into the tunnel option. As such, he announced that since he couldn’t stop the tunnel he would still oppose the provisions that put Seattle on the hook for cost overruns. In this environment, McGinn went on basically doing what he said he would do until Richard Conlin illegally signed the draft Environmental Impact Statement. From that point on, McGinn took a much harder line, including vetoing a tunnel ordinance, and supporting initiatives to put the tunnel itself to a vote. Still, publicly, his position throughout has been that if the city doesn’t have to pay cost overruns, he’ll get out of the way. The state has lied to Seattle about the project repeatedly.

And magically the tenor of the debate has already changed from “of course, Seattle has to pay cost overruns, they get this awesome tunnel!” to “of course, the city won’t have to pay for cost overruns, what would possibly give you that idea?” Still, many people outside of Seattle are taking the first tack, and there haven’t been any laws changed about it since everyone was saying the first part. So, despite assurances from the state, it’s tough to believe that they won’t put “Seattle area property owners” on the hook for cost overruns.

Of course Washington State and King County could do things to assure Seattle that they won’t have to pay cost overruns. The most obvious, is the state could repeal the cost overrun provision, and commit to paying for cost over runs, just like every other state highway project. If King County is as sure as Dow and others say they are that the state is picking up the tab, they could easily work out an agreement with the city to take over any cost overruns that the state imposes on “Seattle area property owners.” If the county people don’t trust McGinn, they could structure the deal in a way that says if Seattle challenges the tunnel, they are back on the hook for cost overruns, so that the tunnel can go forward.

Until the state or the county do something like this, they may believe that Seattle won’t pay cost overruns, but they’re not betting with their own money.

But who cares, right? I mean if there are cost overruns, someone is paying for them? Why does it matter if it’s Seattle? With or without the City Council, McGinn is going to get a proposal on the ballot (and we’ve seen his ability to get the signatures to put things on the ballot without the City Council) to put light rail around the city. It’ll be a much better plan if there isn’t a gigantic question mark in the budget from the state. Simply, Washington should pay for its highways with gas tax money, not local property taxes: Seattle has a better use for the local property tax money.

Now, maybe it is good politics to oppose McGinn. To say he’s just being intransigent or a flipflopper, or whatever. But when the cost overruns do come, when the traffic from taking away exits and onramps and adding tolls comes, when Seattle goes into the red to pay for a shitty road, when we’re still tethered to cars with gas $5, $6, $7 a gallon, it won’t be McGinn’s fault.


  1. 1

    ivan spews:

    This is just about the most murky, disorganized hodgepodge of shit I have ever read on this blog.

  2. 2

    TJ spews:

    You’ve (purposefully) mis-read the legislation. It does not state that Seattle residents are responsible. It states that “Seattle area” property owners that benefit from the tunnel must pay for cost overruns.

    Tell us: 1) what is the Seattle area, and how is it defined by the Legislature, and 2) where is it defined as to who benefits?

    Answer these questions first, before you expound on why you like McGinn’s stance.

  3. 3

    Billy Pulpit (identifying stuff) spews:

    re 2: Why aren’t the ‘Seattle area’ residents who benefit from the tunnel enumerated.

    After all, Tacoma’s but a short distance down the road.

  4. 4

    Cui Bono spews:

    If the state is the one saying “Seattle property owners” won’t have to pay cost overruns, wouldn’t the onus then be on… THE STATE to clarify this? But they haven’t. The state just keeps on lying, from the Governor on down to WSDOT. They lied about the cost overruns, about new taxes for transit, and the bidding process. And dissent against the tunnel gets dismissed as the Seattle peacenik crowd rabble-rousing for no other good reason then they hate business, the government and authority in general.

    And the final lie, we need to move forward on the tunnel before the viaduct collapses? Yes, if the tunnel project moves forward the viaduct will be torn down… in 2016. From The Stranger 3/15/11:

    “Building the tunnel means that the viaduct remains up longer. Demolition had been planned for next year—in 2012—but the tunnel plan delays demolition until 2016 (or later, if the project runs behind schedule, as projects like these often do).”

    They’ll start on the SOUTH end, then years later work their way up, and it’s right there on the WSDOT site.

  5. 5

    uptown spews:

    Most of the politicians involved won’t be around (in office) by the time this becomes an issue. So they just don’t care. Punt it down the the road, or tunnel in this case.

  6. 6

    Ekim spews:

    Will the rest of the state pay any of cost of the tunnel project?

    Eh, no. Most of the counties suck more money out of the state’s coffers than they put in. And of the 4 other counties that do put in a surplus it only amounts to 5%. Pretty much chump change.

    So the real question is how much of the money flowing to the welfare counties will the state allow to be diverted to tunnel and how much Seattle will have to pay from extra taxes.

  7. 7

    Giffy spews:

    @2 Not to mention that the legislature cannot, under the constitution, impose a tax only on a certain area. They can empower a local jurisdiction to, but that’s about it.

  8. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The tunnel is the same old story of rich downtown building owners make us pay taxes to make their property more valuable.

  9. 9

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @2 In a courtroom, the wording of a law can mean anything a lawyer representing special interests want it to mean.

  10. 10

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    As for $7 gas, you’re dreaming in you think gas will cost only $7 in the future. I remember when gas cost 25 cents a gallon. It’s 15 times that now. If you’re young now, you’d better plan on paying $55 a gallon for gas in your “golden” years.*

    * Yep, that’s what they call ‘em, but they don’t mean golden for you.

  11. 13

    Mark Centz spews:

    they’re not betting with their own money
    Every member of the city council who has voted for or intends to support the DBT when newly elected should pledge to put up their own home to the city should any overruns fall on the taxpayers. Since it won’t happen, they’re at no risk, right? Money, mouth. Unlikely that would happen left to their own devices, maybe someone at Publicola or The Stranger could add that to their candidate question list when the next election draws near.

  12. 16

    Blue John spews:

    Enough of this talk. How about some action.
    Have you called and expressed your opinion?

    Richard Conlin, Council President
    Phone: (206) 684-8805

    Sally Bagshaw
    Chair: Parks & Seattle Center; and Alaskan Way Viaduct & Seawall Replacement Project
    Phone: (206) 684-8801

    Tim Burgess
    Phone: (206) 684-8806

    Sally Clark
    Phone: (206) 684-8802

    Jean Godden
    Phone: (206) 684-8807

    Bruce A. Harrell

    Nick Licata
    Phone: (206) 684-8803

    Mike O’Brien
    Phone: (206) 684-8800

    Tom Rasmussen
    Chair: Transportation; and Alaskan Way Viaduct & Seawall Replacement Project
    Phone: (206) 684-8808