Olympia to Seattle: Drop Dead

By Josh Feit February 24, 2009

It's true (as we noted this morning), Seattle and Mayor Greg Nickels got no stimulus today.  

This afternoon, State Senate and House Transportation Chairs, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano) and Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-41, Mercer Island)—along with Sen. Chris Marr (D-6, Spokane) and Rep. Marko Liias (D-21,  Mukilteo)—announced the $341 million list of stimulus dollar transportation projects. The Mercer St. project was not on the list. The project list is I-90-centric: Paving lots of potholes.

Anticipating the bad news, Team Nickels did the advance work to frame today's press conference by alerting the press that he'd signed a deal with Gov. Chris Gregoire just weeks ago saying $50 million of federal stimulus money was supposed to go to the $200 million Mercer project. More important, Team Nickels says, the Mercer project meets the Obama-guidelines: It's shovel-ready; it would create thousands of jobs; and it would have long term economic impacts—firing up biotech and in South Lake Union.

The press corps took the bait and pounced on Rep. Clibborn.

Wouldn't you get a bigger bang for your buck by jump starting projects in big population centers? The AP's Curt Woodward asked.

Wasn't there an agreement with the governor, The Seattle Times Andrew Garber persisted.

And I asked: What criteria did the Mercer project fail to meet?

For starters, Rep. Clibborn was adamant that the legislature was not obligated to follow any agreement signed by Seattle's mayor and the governor. "I told the Governor in no uncertain terms," Clibborn said, "no project had a guaranteed spot on the list." She said she would make "no apology" and said the Governor and the Mayor were well aware in advance that Mercer was off the list. 

Sen. Haugen added: "In our meeting with the governor, she did not tell us we were on the wrong track."

Governor Gregoire issued the following statement after the press conference: 

I had requested funding for the Mercer Street and Spokane Street projects, and I will continue to work with the chairs to get something included in the Legislature’s final recommendations. Despite the lack of designated funding for these two projects, the bored tunnel remains the best Viaduct replacement option and the project list released today does not impede progress on this option.

Haugen also pooh-poohed the notion that a concentrated hit in Seattle would be more stimulative to the economy. "1,000 jobs is 1,000 jobs," she said, arguing that if someone in rural Washington was buying more groceries thanks to their paving job it was a plus. 

Regarding my question (why didn't Mercer make the cut?), Rep. Clibborn said simply, "It's a local project." The list of projects were all state road projects. 

The big theme the legislators pushed at the press conference was the symbolic nature of I-90, which links Eastern and Western Washington. I'm not sure symbolism is what unemployed people want right now—and I'd opt for investments that sustain the economy. But I will say, it's hard to miss the symbolism of leaving a major Seattle project (approved by the City Council and the Mayor) off the list.

It looks like a middle finger extended.
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