State legislation that would have allowed the Seattle Monorail Project to extend the life of the monorail's bonds as long as 60 years appears doomed. Currently, state law limits bonds like those the monorail is seeking to 40 years, and most bonds are issued for 25 years or less. Last month, state treasurer Mike Murphy testified that he was "uncomfortable" with bonding beyond 40 years, which would add an estimated $700 million to the cost of 30-year bonds. A 60-year bond would amount to 120 percent of the "expected economic life" of the monorail, meaning that the bonds would last longer than the value of the monorail itself.

Board member Cleve Stockmeyer says the change is necessary to secure a lower interest rate and insure the monorail can be built. Given that revenues continue to come in at least 20 percent short of early projections, Stockmeyer may be right. However, "the issue in the real world," Stockmeyer claims, is not whether the agency should be allowed to bond for up to 60 years, but whether "we have the ability to get bonds that are for [around] 42 or 43 years. We would like to have that option."

Right now, it seems unlikely that they'll get it. The bond extension was stripped from the senate legislation, along with a provision codifying a car-valuation schedule that many say overvalues late-model vehicles. And bill sponsor Erik Poulson (D-34) says he's "inclined to let [the bill] go for this session" rather than engage in an ugly floor fight over the controversial bonding measure. Meanwhile, house transportation chair Ed Murray (D-43) says he's unlikely to support extending the monorail's bonding capacity. "I have many concerns with bonding for longer than the life of the asset," Murray says.

Seattle Sen. Ken Jacobsen (D-46), claiming the current board lacked the "expertise" to make decisions on a multi-billion-dollar project, added a poison-pill amendment to the legislation that would mandate that the entire board be appointed by the mayor. (Currently, the board is a part-elected, part-appointed body.) Eight of nine board members (minus frequent renegade Cindi Laws) responded to Jacobsen's criticism by writing a lengthy letter to Poulson (D-34), defending their qualifications and stating that although the legislation was brought to Poulson by SMP deputy director Anne Levinson, and not the agency's governing board, the entire board had been briefed on the legislation before it was introduced. Laws (who asserts that she, for one, wasn't fully briefed) says the defensive letter exhibits a "herd mentality" among board members "that we have to defend this project against everything."

Jacobsen, whose criticisms of the board helped spark the letter, says the claim that all the board members were "briefed" on the bill "smacks of utter amateur hour. I've been on boards. You wouldn't have [agency] staff asking for changes in the law unless it had been approved by the board" with a vote. To date, the board has never taken a formal vote on the legislation.

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