Activists plan to file the "Seattle Taxpayer Protection Initiative" on the deep-bore tunnel this Thursday, says the Move Seattle Smarter campaign spokesman Drew Paxton. The measure (full text after the jump) would attempt to make sure any runaway costs on the deep-bore tunnel, which the legislature says must come from the city, don’t get pinned on Seattle. However, it’s unclear that the measure has legally binding teeth.
Comprising three main sections, the initiative: (1) calls on the city to hold the state responsible to pay all costs and be transparent; (2) require the city to obtain a funding plan for the project and its related projects, and investigate legal means to prevent the state from collecting city money for state projects; (3) create a five-person commission to oversee the measure and recommend actions for local officials to carry out the aforementioned duties.
“We want not only the council and the city attorney to explore every option available to them," says Paxton, "we want something bulletproof and absolute assurance that we won’t be on the hook for cost overruns.”
However, the city council intends to approve contracts in the next few months for the state to begin construction in 2011 (essentially property and utility agreements to dig underneath downtown), so it’s unclear how bulletproof the measure can be if it's not approved until next summer or fall. Those contracts serve as the city’s greatest point of leverage over the state to demand changes in state law, more transparency, or suspend the project while pushing for a surface/transit alternative. “This is a municipal initiative so we can’t force the state to do anything,” Paxton says. Nonetheless, he continues, “Even if contracts are signed, we can still ask them to enact policy or legislation that protects Seattle citizens from cost overruns. We are creating political will.”
More after the jump.
Council Member Tom Rasmussen says that the initiative is “consistent with what we have been saying all along—we are not going to pay for the tunnel and we are not going to pay for overruns.” The council approved a resolution this summer that says the city will only pay $930 million for the seawall and utility replacement. The council's contracts will be binding ordinances drafted with the city attorney’s office to limit any city liability, Rasmussen says.
The state intends to release details of proposals from two tunnel bidders on Thursday. In theory, they'll show that the project can come in on budget (even though the state has already given away over $200 million in concessions from a dwindling contingency fund). The initiative will be filed at noon that same day for maximum effect, says Paxton.
Rasmussen adds that the council plans to “closely track this project, including cost. Once we sign the memoranda of agreement, we will continue to monitor and watch and scrutinize the project closely.”
But Paxton says the council’s vows and past resolutions to protect the city aren’t enough. “Even though that may be their intent, we want to highlight that it is not only their responsibility to protect Seattle taxpayers but to approve a clear policy that is also going to protect us.”
Council President Richard Conlin says the council may ask for analysis of the initiative from central staff to ask “what does this actually mean?”
Move Seattle Smarter plans to tap its coalition partners (Sierra Club, Real Change, and the United African Public Affairs Committee) for volunteer labor to gather the roughly 20,000 signatures required to make the ballot. The group is even hosting a happy hour at—of all possible places—The Ram in Northgate from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. tomorrow night.
Another initiative, organized by the group Seattle Citizens Against the Tunnel, is attempting to stop the tunnel project completely.
Here's the full initiative:
SEATTLE TAXPAYER PROTECTION INITIATIVE
AN ORDINANCE relating to City fiscal policies.
WHEREAS, The benefits of transportation mega-projects are routinely exaggerated and costs downplayed to make such projects seem more appealing to the People.
WHEREAS, 90% of transportation mega-projects incur cost over-runs of an average of 30%.
WHEREAS, The City Council adopted a resolution establishing City policy that the State shall be solely responsible for all costs, including cost overruns, of certain State transportation projects.
WHEREAS, The People through this Initiative intend to adopt a similar policy in the Seattle Municipal Code as permanent protections for Seattle taxpayers, applicable to all State transportation projects within Seattle, and to require City elected officials to carry out such policies in exercising their powers and authority.
Now, Therefore, BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY OF SEATTLE AS FOLLOWS:
A new chapter of the Seattle Municipal Code is added to read as follows:
ADOPTION OF CITY POLICIES
NEW SECTION. Sec. 101. The following City policies are hereby adopted to apply in connection with any State transportation projects located totally or partly within the City of Seattle:
(1) The City of Seattle and its elected officials shall exercise their full powers and authority to hold the State of Washington solely responsible for all costs, including cost overruns, on State transportation projects, and to protect City of Seattle taxpayers from responsible for such costs and cost overruns.
(2) The City of Seattle and its elected officials shall exercise their full powers and authority to obtain, at the earliest possible time, viable and transparent funding plans for State transportation projects within the City of Seattle, including related project components and amenities that are important to Seattle residents and businesses.
DUTIES TO CARRY OUT POLICIES
NEW SECTION. Sec. 201. Whenever a State transportation project is proposed totally or partly within the City of Seattle, Seattle elected officials shall have the following duties:
(1) The City Council, Mayor, and City Attorney shall act collectively and independently to carry out the policies adopted in Part 1 of this ordinance.
(2) The City Council and the Mayor shall have the duty to obtain from the State or elsewhere, at the earliest possible time, a viable and transparent funding plan for such project and for all related project components and amenities that are important to Seattle residents and businesses.
(3) The City Attorney shall investigate all available legal strategies to carry out and enforce the policies adopted in Part I of this ordinance, including but not limited to enforcing provisions in the State Constitution that may prohibit the State from requiring City taxpayers to fund State transportation projects.
(4) The City Council, Mayor, and City Attorney shall issue quarterly reports on their efforts to carry out the duties established herein.
ESTABLISHMENT OF COST ACCOUNTABILITY COMMISSION
NEW SECTION. Sec. 301. Within two months after the effective date of this ordinance, the Mayor and the President of the City Council shall each appoint five individuals to a Cost Accountability Commission. The President of the City Council and Mayor shall jointly fill vacancies as necessary. The Commission shall:
(1) Elect a chairperson and meet at least quarterly or more frequently as necessary.
(2) Oversee the implementation of this ordinance, including actions taken or not taken by elected officials to carry out their duties under Part II of this ordinance, and report thereon on a quarterly basis.
(3) Recommend, on a quarterly basis, additional actions that can be taken by elected officials to carry out their duties under Part II of this ordinance.
(4) At the conclusion of four years after adoption of this ordinance, recommend to the City Council potential modifications to improve the effectiveness of this ordinance.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 401: Construction and Codification.
This ordinance is to be liberally construed to advance its purpose of protecting Seattle taxpayers from cost overruns on State transportation projects. However, this ordinance governs the City and its officials only to the extent that they are acting within the scope of their powers and authority under State law and the City Charter, and shall not be construed to authorize or require actions beyond or in conflict with such authority. Nor shall anything in this ordinance be deemed to authorize or compel the City or its officials to refuse to cooperate with the State with regard to the State transportation project.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 402: Severability.
If any provisions of this ordinance, or its application to any person or circumstance be held invalid, the remainder of the ordinance or the application of its terms and provisions to other persons or circumstances shall remain in effect. The Citizens of Seattle declare that they support each of the provisions of this ordinance independently.