City Hall

Overruns Provision Was "All Chopp," State Legislators Say

By Erica C. Barnett July 21, 2010

Two stories this week have made it appear that language in state legislation about the proposed deep-bore tunnel did not come, as has been long believed, from House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43). First, Mike Lindblom at the Seattle Times had a long piece about Wenatchee Rep. Mark Armstrong (R-12), who sponsored the controversial amendment stipulating that "Seattle-area property owners who benefit" from the tunnel will be on the hook for overruns. The piece implies strongly that Armstrong came up with the amendment himself as a way of protecting the state from future city requests for improvements beyond the immediate tunnel work zone.

Then, in a story in this week's Stranger, Dominic Holden writes that the amendment came at the behest of Gov. Chris Gregoire. The piece, headlined "The State is Lying About the Tunnel," accuses Gregoire of inserting the cost-overrun language into the tunnel legislation.

So who's right? Did Chopp have nothing to do with the cost-overruns legislation?

Not according to the governor's office, which told PubliCola it's "not true" when asked if the governor was behind amendment.

"We have a call in to the Speaker to see if what he said [was quoted] accurate[ly]," says Gregoire spokesman Viet Shelton. "What was reported earlier today is revisionist history."

State legislators who worked on the viaduct bill also insist it was Chopp's amendment. House transportation chair Judy Clibborn (D-41), committee member Deb Eddy (D-48), and other state legislators, including Rep. Brendan Williams (D-22) say Chopp explicitly demanded the amendment. "This is all Chopp. This is all Frank. This was Frank's baby," Eddy told PubliCola last week.

State Sen. Ed Murray (D-43), who sponsored the viaduct bill on the senate side (without the overruns provision) also told PubliCola right after the 2009 session that it was a Chopp demand. "At one point, the Governor had to talk me out of killing the viaduct bill (my bill)"—when it came back from the House with the overruns provision— "because without the House language Frank would have killed it.”

And reached for a comment today, Murray said: "In conversations with senate staff and the senate [transportation] chair and with the governor, I was told House leadership insisted on the provision. Look, we all know that things only move in the House if Frank wants them to move."

Murray says when the bill came back over to the Senate, he was prepared to kill it because  "I thought the language was unfair. I met with the governor and she agreed that the language was unfair and that she didn't support it and at some point we'd have to fix it."

Asked if maybe Gregoire authored the language anyway as a way to appease Chopp and pass the bill, Murray said: "No. It was not the governor's language."

When we first broke the news about the cost-overruns vote last year, Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36) told us the language came straight from Chopp.

Ultimately, whether Chopp authored the language or not, it's cheesy for him to pass the buck now, over a year later, after making it clear to his colleagues at the time that he would not pass the legislation without the language.

We have a request into Chopp for a comment.

Josh Feit contributed reporting to this post.
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