I’m kinda with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in his opposition to the deep bore tunnel, though not exactly for all the same reasons. (I mean, we pick the most expensive Viaduct replacement alternative possible, but we can’t even scrounge up the loose change to replace the South Park Bridge? What’s up with that?)
Still, I think Gov. Chris Gregoire came awfully close to disarming the mayor’s most compelling rhetorical argument against the current proposal: the bizarrely punitive provision in which Seattle taxpayers are responsible for picking up the tab for any cost overruns.
Think about it. Regardless of how low the initial bids are coming, or how much of a cushion they’ve supposedly built into their estimates, we all know that mega-projects sometimes often more times than not come in over budget. That’s a fact. Yet the state DOT, which is tasked with managing this part of the project, bears none of the costs for the risks it takes on.
No doubt it made some legislators feel awfully damn good to slip in this provision, but it is simply untenable, and just cannot stand.
Gov. Gregoire now says that the provision’s language merely represents “legislative intent,” and would not be enforceable without further legislative action. “When the state budget is being drawn by the state, the state is responsible for the projects,” the Governor said yesterday, dismissing McGinn’s objections. In fact, she even challenged McGinn to go to Olympia and get the language changed:
“If you want it changed in the law, you need to take it to the Legislature in January. You get it done, you bring it to my desk, I’ll sign it.”
Great. So Gov. Gregoire is on the record in favor of striking the cost overrun provision. But instead of just shoving it in McGinn’s face — who, to be honest, has not thus far proven particular adept at persuading legislators — how about if the Governor offers to take the lead and propose this fix to the legislature herself? And while we’re at it, how about if House Speaker Frank Chopp, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and respective transportation chairs Rep. Judy Clibborn and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen collectively swallow their pride, and promise to work with the Governor and the Mayor to get this done?
There are other good policy arguments for opposing the tunnel, but no other good rhetorical ones, so instead of just attempting to embarrass the Mayor in a public forum and hope he slinks away, it is time for the Governor and other Olympia leaders to put this to rest by promising to remove this last remaining political stumbling block.
If Mayor McGinn is smart, he’ll score some points by claiming credit for forcing a major concession. And as much as that might pain Gov. Gregoire to pay that sort of political price, well… sometimes mega-projects like this simply cost more than you expect.