$190 million, actually

Earlier this week, gubernatorial front-runners Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee both announced their opposition to the provision in state law that holds Seattle taxpayers responsible for any cost overruns on the deep-bore tunnel project. Whether that drives any action in the legislature remains to be seen.

What I’m more interested in, however, is the more forgotten part of the 2009 deal: a local 1% Motor Vehicle Excise Tax to fund $190m in capital improvements in transit and support continuing operations of the buses to utilize it. Although substantially less extensive than the contents of the rival plans, the improvements would be critical to providing alternatives to driving in an outcome with less vehicle capacity than there is today and substantial traffic diversion due to tolling.

Despite signing a letter than vowed “to support efforts” to secure this revenue, Governor Gregoire jettisoned this critical part of the plan only three weeks later when it received a cool reception in Olympia.

The MVET would have covered additional RapidRide and peak express bus service in the SR 99 corridor; a new Burien-Delridge RapidRide line; and make trolleywire and downtown street improvements for transit. It also included an (unfunded) commitment to look at the First Avenue streetcar, a plan that Seattle has advanced and now could use authority from the State to fully fund.

I emailed the McKenna and Inslee campaigns on Monday to discover their position on full implementation of the tunnel plan, and have not received a response from either.

19 Replies to “The Future Governor on the Deep-Bore Tunnel”

  1. Let’s recap:

    Gregoire says she is totally against the cost overrun provision, but signed it into law anyway, even though it was a separate section that could have easily been line-item vetoed. She blames Frank Chopp.

    Gregoire promised transit funding but used her line item veto to kill legislation that had already passed both houses of the legislature and would have provided a fifth of the promised dollars. She blames the legislature for not supporting transit taxes.

    1. Perhaps 2 of the reasons she is “retiring”? Her Seattle “base” would have been soft at best…

      1. I would agree. I liked her when she came in, now I can’t wait for someone else. She just totally liquified her base. The Seattle Weekly went so far as to name her the “Best Local Girl Gone Bad” http://bit.ly/rltw6j I think she actually did get a good amount of stuff done, but most of that has been overshadowed for me by her hostility towards transit and her handling of the state budget over the last few years.

      2. Sure, she might not be running again, but that actually makes here more dangerous in regards to the Seattle and the DBT.

        A Gregoire completely free from political considerations and without any need to protect her Seattle base? Ya, that just frees her up to do whatever she wants without reservation, and I think right now she would just love to destroy McGinn and anything he stands for.

        And she has never really been a friend of Seattle issues anyhow.

      3. And unfortunately, we take such mediocrity when faced with the very real danger of teahadists that would do to our state what is happening in Wisconsin.

      4. What would have happened if we hadn’t had Gregoire? Governor Rossi would have been much worse.

  2. Who cares what politicians promise before they are elected. Look at Obama..get out of Gitmo, Iraq, etc. etc. Lies lies and more lies. It matters more who they take money from to run their campaign. Request a list tunnel contractor/donors and you’ll know which way the wind will really blow when it comes down to whether they get paid or not for the cost overruns, stuck digging equipment etc.

    1. There aren’t any combat troops in Iraq anymore, and it’s not up to the President to close Guantanamo Bay. What do you want the president to do, specifically, that’s within his powers?

      1. as a nitpick, there are still 10’s of thousands of troops in Iraq even if they aren’t labeled “combat” troops, they’re still in harms way and still sucking up huge resources.

        As for Guantanimo, the President has all the power he needs with various Bush era laws and precedents to have closed this place over a year ago. He’s simply chosen not to fight that one. But he doesnt seem to have a stomach for engaging “the enemy” directly. This base and what it represents is a clear existential threat to the security of the United States and perpetuates the cycle of terrorism in the middle east. Under the Patriot Act and other laws he has the power to act and via signing statements he can choose not to accept any provison that stops his ability to act.

    2. The point is, it doesn’t matter what politicians say, what matters is who they take campaign donations from. If both gubernatorial candidates are beholden to tunnel contractors, you can bet that even with the state being broke, as announced in the Aug 12th Seattle times, that the bills will be paid, and who better to pay them, then those benefiting from the tunnel, Seattle.

      The key is killing the tunnel, because it’s stupid. Not because we are worried that Seattle will pay the cost overruns. It’s that there shouldn’t be cost overruns AT ALL. The project should have a real budget not this ginned up thing that they keep passing around. Then it would be obvious that the cost/car is way out of alignment with any benefit. That the tolls aren’t going to cover it, and that property taxes in Seattle will be raised to cover it.

  3. Thanks for the opportunity to say this again:

    I’ll be willing to discuss sharing cost overruns, once I’m convinced that “benefit overruns” will more than compensate. But the veto of the MVET for transit vetoed the Deep Bore Tunnel project for me, and this issue is not negotiable.

    If I-5 had included two-way transit lanes when it opened, millions of people stuck in PM rush hour traffic would have been moving all these years. What’s the amount on the State balance sheet for the lost time and productivity over three decades?

    Deep Bore Tunnel project? Think I-5 county line to Northgate 5pm Friday underground- with a Downtown-wide traffic jam on top of it.

    The Governor of Washington and my elected representatives in Olympia- my fellow taxpayers in the State of Washington need to understand this:

    For the City of Seattle to be able to contribute its full extremely beneficial share to the economy of our whole state, it’s necessary that every transportation project include specific provisions for public transit as an integral part of the design.

    Like the Oldsmobile ad says: “What we need is not our fathers’ highway- nor their State of Washington”.

    Mark Dublin

  4. Good insight for Martin Duke to pose this question. I’ve portrayed the MVET issue in some Times articles as a failure by state leadership to keep its 2009 pledge.

    Keep in mind, the 2009 agreement was that Olympia would allow a car-tab tax of 1 percent MVET to be either enacted councilmanically or by voters in King County — NOT by the state itself.

    In hindsight, just look how much of a struggle it is for the King County Council to enact the temporary $20 car-tab fee that was allowed by the 2011 Legislature. So who knows whether local goverment would actually collect a big flow of transit dollars, even if the Legislature gave the whole 1 percent authority…..

    1. If King County had been able to implement the 1% MVET, would it just be filling the huge gaping hole in Metro’s budget instead of improving transit service?

      1. Conceivably, but the legislature might have specifically earmarked the revenue for these projects. They do it all the time.

  5. The milk carton image is fantastic. Did Protect Seattle Now or anyone else use it in campaign mailers?

    All this voter got was about a half dozen different slick, shiny Let’s Move Forward mailers, most perpetuating the “contains transit” lie.

  6. If as McKenna affirmed, the whole state is on the hook for cost overruns…then why do only Seattlites get to vote on the choice of infrastructure?

    Taxation without representation…

    1. Any choice other than Olympia’s preferred option will cost less and be subject to fewer cost overruns.

      So rest your pretty head.

    2. Until the law is erased from the books the city is potentially liable and needs to make contingency plans, as it does for all potential disasters. A judge could rule either way on it. It would be irresponsible for city officials *not* to say loudly that this is an extraordinary imposition on the city, and what its budget impact would be over the next thirty years. Cost overruns are still common enough that we can’t just assume there won’t be any. Mckenna is one person, and while it’s refreshing that he’s not as extreme on this as some feared, there are still the many Legislators who are saying that they intended to enforce the provision literally and will try to do so. Even if the state can’t legally enforce it per se, it can do other things to shift an equivalent tax burden to Seattle, or to limit Seattle’s tax intake to the same amount.

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