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Council Should Unite Behind McGinn On The Tunnel Cost Overrun Provision
David Meinert's column last Friday on the cost overrun provision in the State's funding legislation for the deep-bore has stimulated a fantastic discussion in the comments. But I'm still waiting for an good answer to Meinert's core question: Why does every Councilmember other than Mike O'Brien seem to be so dead set on supporting it?
There are actually two questions embedded in this: (1) Why support the tunnel at all; and (2) Why support it with a condition that is so blatantly not in Seattle's best interests. (Politically, as Josh pointed out, it's an indefensible spot.)
Regarding the first question, Richard Conlin's position is particularly baffling.
Conlin has a long and distinguished history of working on sustainability issues, yet in supporting the deep-bore tunnel, he is at odds with the vast majority of his green base, including some of the City's most prominent and respected voices on sustainability such as Alan Durning and the Sierra Club.
And the second question is equally baffling, given how the cost overrun provision is both totally unprecedented legislation and such a brazen f.u. from the State to the City of Seattle. One would think that standing up to such an affront would be a political no-brainer for any Seattle politician.
To me, these inconsistencies point back to the balance of power between the Council and the Mayor. Recall that even before McGinn was elected, politicos were predicting that a McGinn mayorship would be crushed by the Council; that the Council, hungry to reassert their power after being dominated by Nickels for eight years would unite against the weak and inexperienced McGinn; and that Council President Conlin would become the most powerful politician in Seattle.
It was hard not interpret last Fall's rushed 9-0 pro-tunnel vote as a show of unified strength and a shot across McGinn's bow. Unfortunately, that early dynamic set the stage for what has played out into the dysfunctional schism between the Mayor and Council that we are witnessing currently. Both parties are partly to blame, and both parties ought to start sucking it up and figuring out how to mend that schism for the good of the City they serve.
But in the particular case of the tunnel cost overrun issue, the smartest path would be for the Council to unite with McGinn and put the pressure back on the State, where it belongs. If the State is so confident that there will be no cost overruns, then it is completely reasonable to ask that the provision be removed. And if that happens, the Mayor and Council are both heroes. McGinn, however, would lose one of his most powerful arguments against the tunnel, an outcome that would no doubt please tunnel supporters.
But could the State pull the plug on the whole thing? At this stage in the game, it seems unlikely. In any case, one thing we should all really stop worrying about is a new elevated structure. No matter how hard the State tried to push that one down our throats, the people of Seattle would never let it happen. No way. (In my view the biggest risk is that we'd end up putting too wide a surface street on the waterfront.)
The cost overrun dilemma presents the Council with an opportunity to show leadership by taking on the State, but it's also a gamble, as are all political moves. Yes, the tunnel deal could be lost. On the other hand, the Council's current strategy gives McGinn the upper hand on an issue that is likely to have increasing resonance with the public. What say you, Council?
In the end, if the cost overrun provision is enough to break the deal, then the deal deserves to be broken.
- First Look: Chef Jason Stratton's Aragona
- This Week in Restaurant News: Big Openings and Big News
- Update: Zara Seattle
- An Eater’s Guide to the Malls
- 5 Reasons to Get Excited About Joey Kitchen
- Behind the Scenes: Seattle Designer Reina Acab of Le Notre
- Morning Fizz: Two Deputy Mayors
- Morning Fizz: Future Salaries
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