Right to left: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, Sen. Adam Kline, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and Rep. Reuven Carlyle at Liberty last night
  • Right to left: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, Sen. Adam Kline, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and Rep. Reuven Carlyle at Liberty last night
The most interesting moment at the Publicola meet-and-greet for Seattle legislators last night at Liberty was when the lawmakers were asked about downtown tunnel cost overruns.

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The four Seattle legislators who were present—Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of West Seattle's 34th District, Sen. Adam Kline of south Seattle's 37th District, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Magnolia's 36th District, and Rep. Reuven Carlyle of the 36th—all said they believed language putting Seattle property owners on the hook for tunnel cost overruns was plainly unenforceable, and several seemed annoyed that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn won't let go of what they consider a non-issue.

“It’s clearly so unenforceable that it has not been an issue—except for Mayor McGinn, I believe, seizing on it to make it seem as if there is something there," said Sen. Kline. "The question is: If it’s unenforceable, why bother fighting it? Unless you’re really trying to fight the tunnel all over again, which he told us he wasn’t going to do.”

The several dozen Seattle voters in the back room at Liberty seemed to feel otherwise, with many pressing the question of how the cost overruns language would be dealt with. None of the lawmakers was willing to sponsor legislation to try to remove the language, except for Sen. Kohl-Welles, who said she was willing to put forward a measure just to take away what she described as one of McGinn's delaying tactics.

“Mayor McGinn is seemingly trying to do everything he can to delay the project," Kohl-Welles said. "Tie it up every way possible. So I would be very supportive of legislation... I would sponsor, I would support getting rid of that cost overrun language that we have."

Rep. Fitzgibbon—who strongly suggested during his campaign that he would lead on keeping Seattle off the hook for cost overruns—seemed to be trying to thread the needle, saying he would support legislation to remove the cost overruns language if someone else sponsored it, and if the state senate passed it before the state house.

“It’s clear that it’s a provision that doesn’t make sense in state law," Fitzgibbon said. "It’s unprecedented in terms of state policy. I certainly think if the senate managed to pass a stand-alone bill that managed to remove that provision, I’d be all for it. But it would be an uphill battle.”

Second most interesting moment: When all of the legislators present agreed that Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053 is unconstitutional, but none of them supported a head-on challenge to the new law's constitutionality.

“Is it unconstitutional?" asked Sen. Kline, a lawyer. "It’s clearly unconstitutional." But, he said, Democrats could lose their majorities in both houses if they challenge Eyman. "We will be seen as the people who litigated 1053 and once again have Tim Eyman tearing up a yard sign in someone’s courtroom," he said.

All of the legislators on hand were dismayed about the way the state budget mess is being perceived.

"There’s a mantra that’s been coming out of Republican side for many years that all of this is our own fault," said Sen. Kohl-Welles. "The idea is that Democrats have just been about unsustainable budgets." That line, said Kohl-Welles, totally disregards "what’s happening nationally," and "that we’re one of the only states without an income tax,” and that Washington has "one of the most unfair tax systems in the nation." The problem, in her view: “Their messaging, unfortunately, I think, has been better than Democratic messaging.”

Now people expect that $4.6 billion can easily be cut from the budget. “If the public thinks we can do this without pain to most people," Kohl-Welles said, "then they’re sadly mistaken.”

She was focused on rolling back tax exemptions for out of state banks—“Are we going to put more importance on those out of state banks than we are on the University of Washington?" asked Kohl-Welles. "Or the health of our children?”—but acknowledged that because of Eyman's 1053 it would be a challenge to get the two-thirds majority necessary to close such tax loopholes.

Rep. Carlyle was focused on legislation he plans to introduce that would change how tax exemptions are defined so that, he hopes, eliminating them would no longer be seen as creating "revenue," and therefore wouldn't fall under 1053's two-thirds majority requirement.

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“My policy priority is to try to shift the conversation from tax exemptions as a revenue issue to a spending issue," Rep. Carlyle said. His challenge: Figuring out whether a two-thirds majority would be needed in order to change the definition of tax exemptions so that repealing them wouldn't require a two-thirds majority.

One way around the two-thirds majority problem that all of the legislators seemed to be considering: An all cuts budget, or an almost all cuts budget, and then a series of measures on the fall ballot allowing voters to raise specific taxes if they wants specific services back.

Notably absent from the event: House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43), State Senator Ed Murray (D-43), and Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43), none of whom were invited according to Publicola editor Josh Feit.

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