Morning Fizz: An Extraordinarily Difficult Time
Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring concerns about tunnel construction, education funding, and spying.
1. City council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen, along with Mayor Ed Murray and council members Jean Godden (head of the waterfront committee) and Mike O'Brien (a longtime tunnel skeptic) have signed off on a letter to the state department of transportation (WSDOT) requesting information about the current condition of the existing viaduct, the state's plans for monitoring the structure, and the state's "decision-making process and guidelines for determining when the viaduct is no longer safe for travel," along with other information.
The city officials released the letter on the same day that WSDOT revealed its latest inspections had uncovered new cracks in the viaduct, which a previous inspection revealed has sunk around 4/10 of an inch in the vicinity of the tunnel construction site in Pioneer Square.
"What plans does WSDOT have if the tunnel boring machine requires major repairs again, and access to the machine from the surface is no longer possible?" The latest cracks, located between Spring and Seneca Streets, aren't related to tunnel construction, but they do raise questions about how long the viaduct can remain open. (Deputy tunnel project manager Matt Preedy told the council yesterday that "We are not concerned whatsoever with the structure under everyday loads.")
Specifically, the city's letter asks WSDOT for "information about settlement of the viaduct since the 2001 Nisqually earthquake and how settlement is related to safety of travel on the viaduct"; information about how the state is monitoring the settlement of the viaduct; "WSDOT's factors and thresholds for determining whether to implement further mitigation to strengthen the viaduct or to close the viaduct due to additional settlement or damage"; and information about plans for long-term viaduct closure and additional transit service that might be needed.
Finally, the letter asks, "How will WSDOT assess the viability of Seattle Tunnel Partners' repair plan for the tunnel boring machine, and the contractor's readiness to complete the remaining tunnel drive under downtown Seattle? What plans does WSDOT have if the tunnel boring machine requires major repairs again, and access to the machine from the surface is no longer possible?"
The tunnel boring machine has been stalled in Pioneer Square since early December; the machine's manufacturer, Hitachi-Zosen, is supposed to get back to WSDOT with a plan to fix the machine's damaged bearing seals, and possibly the bearing that allows the machine's cutterhead to turn, this week.
2. Democrats in the state senate had several criticisms of a bill the Republican-dominated senate Majority Coalition Caucus is moving through the senate in the closing week of the session that would earmark two-thirds of all new expenditures (above and beyond maintenance levels) for K-12 and higher education and limit social service spending, including things such as food and housing assistance, to one third of new revenue growth.
In addition to pointing out that the bill would not meet the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary mandate to fully fund K-12 education—noting, for example, that judging on projected revenue growth, the MCC proposal puts $2 billion toward education in the 2017-19 biennium whereas the state needs nearly $1 billion just to maintain this biennium's McCleary downpayment and about another $3.2 billion in new money to meet the rest of the McCleary mandate, including $1.2 billion extra in the 2017-19 biennium.
"We can’t fund what happens inside the classroom by cutting what happens outside of it."
The Democrats also point out that the MCC plan puts a limit on expenditures, but not on tax exemptions, which defeats the purpose because both spending and tax loopholes hit the balance sheet.
However, file the sharpest criticism under the Democrats' unified theory mantra.
"This proposal would force cuts in the food, health care and housing assistance that those vulnerable students count on. If we really want to close the opportunity gap, we need to take a holistic approach to support vulnerable students," state Sen. Andy Billig (D-3, Spokane) says. "There are over 30,000 homeless students in Washington, and a student who comes to school hungry and who doesn’t have health care or a safe place to go home to is going to have an extraordinarily difficult time succeeding in school."
And he adds: "We can’t fund what happens inside the classroom by cutting what happens outside of it."
3. An ACLU-backed bill that Fizz has been cheering all session passed the senate yesterday 46-1. The bipartisan bill regulates government use of drones, requiring warrants for drone searches and mandating that government agencies must first get "explicit approval" from its governing body (this would prevent the SPD from buying drones without city council approval).
The drone bill passed the house in mid February, where its diverse batch of co-sponsors included liberal 43rd district freshman Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill) and hyper-conservative Rep. Jason Overstreet (R-42, Lynden).
4. Democratic leadership in the state senate tells Fizz they have not lined up a candidate yet to run for the vacancy in the 30th Legislative District. Yesterday's Jolt: Longtime Democratic state Sen. Tracey Eide (D-30, Federal Way) announced she is not running for reelection.
Her longtime district Democratic colleague, former Rep. Mark Miloscia, announced last week that he's running for the seat as a Republican.