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City Council member Tim Burgess has a post on his blog today questioning Mayor Mike McGinn's proposal to put a $241 million bond measure to replace the deteriorating seawall on the ballot in May. On Thursday, McGinn released the proposal without discussing it with council members first—a surprising and unusual move, especially given that McGinn needs council approval to put the measure on the ballot.

In his post, Burgess explicitly questioned whether McGinn was proposing a fast-tracked seawall vote as part of an elaborate scheme to kill the downtown Alaskan Way tunnel. Calling the council "leery of the Mayor's intentions,"  Burgess wrote,

We've told him of our concerns.  He opposed the tunnel during his election campaign, then said he would follow policy adopted by the Council.  But he continues to speak out against the tunnel; conflicting messages only fuel our doubt.  I would appreciate a clear and succinct statement of his beliefs and intentions; tell us the truth, Mayor McGinn, we're adults.  Lingering doubts and suspicions serve no one and will only confuse and alienate the public.  It would be better if the Mayor put his cards on the table and engaged in a reasoned and fact-based debate about this important corridor.

Burgess also pointed out that the city council just set up a 41-member citizen committee to make recommendations about the central waterfront and seawall by August 31. "A May special election will limit, perhaps even interfere, with this committee's work."

And he questioned why McGinn was proposing bonds, which require 60 percent voter approval, rather than a levy, which only requires a simple majority. (According to one theory, even a loss could be good for McGinn politically, because it would demonstrate that voters don't even want to fund the cheapest, least controversial part of the viaduct replacement project).

Asked why McGinn chose bonds over a levy, which is the city's usual way of raising money for capital projects, McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus said bonding "allows the $241 million to be paid off over 30 years.  A levy would be limited to nine, increasing the amount per $1,000 of assessed property value that a taxpayer would pay annually."

As for the risk of the 60 percent threshold, Pickus said, "If you look at past elections, both general and special, Seattle voters consistently support funding basic needs – schools, the fire and emergency levy - by more than 60 percent." However, cities rarely use bonds to pay for capital projects; the last time the city passed a bond measure was in 1998, when voters approved a measure to expand Seattle's library system.

Today, Burgess told me that he and several other council members talked to McGinn about the seawall proposal on Friday night, but that his questions were still mostly unanswered. "I haven't the faintest idea" what McGinn's larger plan is, Burgess said. "That's why we're leery."

Side note: Burgess was in Olympia when he talked to me, lobbying for the council's legislative agenda. Also in Olympia, being escorted around by council member (and tunnel opponent) Nick Licata: Longtime city lobbyist David Foster, who's stepped in as the council's "transportation liaison" to the legislature. Foster will focus on issues related to viaduct replacement, marking the first time in recent memory that the council has hired its own lobbyist to push an agenda separate from, and at direct odds with, the mayor's.
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