December 17, 2006
Governor Punts, Editorial Boards Applaud. Voters, what say you?

On the heels of Christine Gregoire's abdication of decision making authority over the replacement of part of a state highway, the Seattle Times and Everett Herald applaud her choice. Those that think elected officials are supposed to make decisions and lead should be nauseated.

Perhaps it is a symbol of the intractableness of the debate over replacing the viaduct, but people on both sides of the aisle seem mightily annoyed by this turn of events. Stefan is none to impressed, as linked above. This author thinks Gregoire's non-decision decision is horrendous. Meanwhile, Josh Feit over at the Stranger reports here, here, and here on the matter. In short, he thinks the announced vote stinks. In order of posts he notes the proposed vote is a false choice (since Gregoire herself acknowledges the tunnel isn't viable fiscally), Gregoire didn't study the 3rd option of the surface boulevard with transit (only the surface boulevard with no transit upgrades), and lots of prominent Seattle politicians disagree. The darn thing is Feit is right.

The Times and the Herald call Gregoire's punt to the voters "pragmatic" and "sensible." No, it's lame. What is the sense of asking people what option of two they want when the third option prominent local officials would like on the table hasn't been properly examined (it's not like there hasn't been time to do such things)? What is the sense of asking voters what they think if there are no taxes attached as needed to pay for the tunnel option? What is the sense of asking voters in Seattle whether they want the viaduct or tunnel, when financing for the tunnel would likely end up on a ballot for a much larger populace through the RTID?

Our local fascination with taking the voters' temperature is mind-numbingly stupid. The debate about replacing the viaduct is a complex series of interconnected policy decisions. We elect officials to make such judgments. If we don't like those decisions, we throw them out of office. Our own recent history in the state is voters limiting taxes on car tabs and property, while voting for unfunded spending on lower class sizes and teachers' salaries. Argue about the merits of each of those individual choices all you want, but taken as a package they don't represent a logical collection of policies in the least. Now the Governor wants Seattle to cast a vote that deliberately avoids passing judgment on a number of essential aspects of the viaduct replacement debate?

This is leadership? I think not.

Mercifully, at least one member of the local mainstream media agrees: Danny Westneat. His Sunday column gives the Governor's decision its due derision, in politer terms appropriate for a family newspaper. And in a nutshell he captures the problem:

If that's true, then what are the politicians for? Isn't this the very job we hired them to do -- to break political logjams? To give here and get there, to bend some arms and scratch some backs and somehow come up with something? Anything?

Instead, they want us to do it. So they don't have to.

We barely have a representative democracy anymore. The representative part has checked out. The democracy part may look like it's in full swing -- there's certainly a lot of voting going on -- but it isn't leading anywhere.

Westneat has the courage to pierce through the fluff to which the Times and Herald have otherwise succumbed. We live in a region where consensus is valued, where the opinions of others are to be embraced and explored. That's nice. But in government, on tough problems, sooner or latter you're just supposed to make up your damn mind. Asking voters to do that for you that isn't exactly a noble way to earn your pay.


UPDATE: As I finalized this post, Joel Connelly's column on the matter has come online. He's not impressed either. Meanwhile, the P-I's editorial board adds what appears to be just a whole lot of mush on the subject.

Posted by Eric Earling at December 17, 2006 11:40 PM | Email This
1. Ah, more non-leadership on the viaduct from our leaders.

Posted by: me on December 18, 2006 12:02 AM
2. Time Magazine just selected the Seattle Times editorial board as 'Irrelevant Media' Award Winner for 2006. Who thinks that Boss Hogg Nickels and the dunderhead tunnel freaks on the Seattle's city council will abide by a voter's decision that kills the tunnel?? Costs now for the Hiway 99 viaduct and 520 bridge have soared over the $10 billion amount if the more expensive options are done. Stop the madness; VOTE NO TUNNEL AND 'NO' ON THE 2007 RTID. HAD THE I-912 GAS TAX REPEAL BEEN SUCCESSFUL; WE WOULD NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH ALL OF THE EXCESSIVE COSTLY REPAIR OPTIONS. WAKE UP!!

Posted by: Alan Deright on December 18, 2006 03:04 AM
3. I am generally for letting the populace vote on these big issues. And, as you say, the third option supported by conservatives is not even on the list of options to be voted upon. That option is the repair option that just went through major scrutiny by a consultant expecting to make tens of millions on the replacement project. They lowballed the replacement option (costs haven't been updated and analyzed) in detriment to the repair option and still the repair option was cheaper.

But, the right people won't be voting on this. Sure, the Seattleites will be expected to pay in excess of what the State would have paid, but, ....what happens when the costs for the tunnel double or triple over what the voters were told? Don't you think the State (yes, that means me) will bail the City out? Oh, I know, all those promises and legalese written into the documents to prevent that from happening. Do you really think the State won't bail Seattle out?

Posted by: swatter on December 18, 2006 04:57 AM
4. Well I agree with swatter on the cost overruns. Will the State prevent the bankruptcy of Seattle due to cost over runs. Watch also KC will have to pony up a majority of shortfalls until the State steps in.
The Governor is dreaming that her choice of giving it to the voters. The needs of the tunnel the billions asked for Mass transit and the additional billions for Roads that the question of funding is not being discussed in a rational manner.
So instead of having an open discussion of the real costs and seeing what problems that could happen if we have an earthquake. these studies will not be released to the people so a rational discussion can be made. Information that supports the tunnel and the rosy picture it produces is all that will be released. And the tunnel will be just like light rail. After spending every dime the voters agreed to and no rail they advertise that they are under budget. They will use bait and switch to get Seattle to agree to it.
The tunnel should be called Nichol's Folly or Big Dig II. Democrats never learn from historical Failures of the past. They still feel they know everything. And we have to keep repeating the same mistakes that have proven to fail over and over again. And expect one time that it will work at least once. I see politicians with their blindness to think that if you add salt to iced Tea it will be sweet to drink.

Posted by: David Anfinrud on December 18, 2006 05:32 AM
5. Loosing the vote two counts to one doesn't make a leader-- The law was satisfied even if the people didn't get a leader.

Posted by: Tacoma Blizzard on December 18, 2006 06:38 AM
6. Seattle Times lead editorial, September 6, 2017

State government must intervene

A decade ago, Seattle voters made what was called a visionary decision, and voted to replace the aging and dangerous viaduct with a tunnel. The tunnel was touted by then-mayor Greg Nickels as a way of "reconnecting" Seattle with its waterfront, and promised to be boon to the waterfront and the entire downtown core.

But now, in the face of multi-billion dollar cost overruns, the taxpayers of Seattle have balked at the latest proprosed tax increase to finish the viaduct. The money to finish it, and finished it must be, simply does not exist within the relatively small Seattle tax base.

The viaduct is part of the state highway, and because of that it is ultimately a state responsibility. Olympia now has no choice but to provide the funds to finish the problem-plagued tunnel. Will the rest of the state's projects suffer? Of course. But there is simply no other choice.

Posted by: ThreeDimen on December 18, 2006 07:23 AM
7. Add this leadership to Gregoire and Nickels' stunning non-performance following the recent storm, and both would be summarily dismissed from any corporation in existence.

How they continue to look themselves straight in the face every morning baffles me. At least Nickels is behind transgendered jail inmates getting their own potties (today's front page Times)--that's a start.

Posted by: Organization Man on December 18, 2006 07:32 AM
8. The legislature should cut the Seattle City government, Nickels, Sims, RTID and ST (and all the slanted public votes these local governments want to stage) completely OUT of the design and construction processes for BOTH 99 and 520.

The local government hacks around here not only don't add value, they've shown nothing but ineptitude on transportation projects.

520 and 99 are state highways. The legislature should establish tolls and taxes to pay for those, and get going on them.

Eyman's notion that the public has to vote on tax increases (at least as far as transportation megaprojects is concerned) was at best misguided. Look at monorail, look at ST. Those who make money off megaprojects draft the measures that go on the ballot - that's a guaranteed formula for taking advantage of taxpayers.

The state government alone should have complete authority over these two projects. Less bureaucracy and less layers of government. More accountability, and those in charge are elected (not like with ST and RTID). The local government clowns entrenched here just would gum up the works paying back their political benefactors.

Posted by: Justin on December 18, 2006 07:45 AM
9. Funny. I certainly don't recall Puget Sound media support for putting an issue to the voters when the GOP put forward its transportation package in the late 90s. Many words were written about how elected officials were elected to make decisions and not punt the issues to the voters.

The open bias being displayed is stunning sometimes.

Posted by: jimg on December 18, 2006 08:49 AM
10. Let me get this straight:

1) There's a project to be used by the entire region, and probably paid for by the whole state, but ONLY Seattle will vote on it.

2) In all likelihood, a surface option would be most popular in Seattle (because it's anti-car) and outside the Puget Sound (because it's cheapest). Yet, this is not a choice on the ballot.

3) After months of hand-wringing by all parties that the most important aspect of the project was to get started RIGHT AWAY, our fearless leader has decided to kick this down the road for another year, allowing construction inflation to eat even more into the project's affordability.

How does this make sense?

Posted by: Martin on December 18, 2006 09:14 AM
11. Heads up: "surface + transit" is a code word. What it means is that Sound Transit would expand its bus routes (along 99) and add streetcars (along the waterfront and up Seneca Street probably) to Pill Hill and Broadway. It is a Sound Transit expansion option.

Posted by: the anti-sims on December 18, 2006 09:41 AM
12. "Funny. I certainly don't recall Puget Sound media support for putting an issue to the voters when the GOP put forward its transportation package in the late 90s. Many words were written about how elected officials were elected to make decisions and not punt the issues to the voters."

Very good point, jimg. And in that case the Republicans were asking voters statewide, not in one city, to approve a transportation financing package written and passed by the Legislature.

The double standard is, indeed, stunning.

Posted by: ram on December 18, 2006 10:54 AM
13. I think Ebenezer Gregforhire just tossed us a Christmas Soup Bone...we can now bow down to her and kiss her ring!!!

Posted by: Pacific Grove Phlash on December 18, 2006 11:17 AM
14. I disagree. I think that giving the choice to the voters in this case is the right thing to do.

The reason I think this is because both the Mayor and the Seattle City Council have threatened to slow-roll and oppose any option other than a tunnel.

The city council decided not to bring the issue to a vote of the people when the price tag for the tunnel option skyrocketed way past the price tag for replacing the viaduct. They were right, as polls have shown.

Normally politicians are supposed to represent the people. They've chosen to ignore the people, so it's only right that the people are given the choice once again.

Posted by: Perri Nelson on December 18, 2006 01:09 PM
15. And to think KC Elections went through all that trouble to get the Queen into the Governor's mansion.

That knife in the back must hurt!

Posted by: Jack Burton on December 18, 2006 02:29 PM
16. Funny, I thought you cons were all for votes of the people on just about everything. The GOP is always supporting Eyeman's latest funding scheme, always wanting the public to vote on issues, whining constantly about the Legislature adding emergency clauses to bills to prevent referenda, etc, etc. So the Guv gives you what you want and you bitch about that too? Yet another reason the voters are tired of the GOP.

Posted by: Tacoma on December 18, 2006 02:45 PM
17. I'm cranky about it because only Seattle voters get a say, when you know that the taxpayers of the whole state state will end up paying for it in the end anyway.

Posted by: ThreeDimen on December 18, 2006 03:08 PM
18. I'll post this over here also, for the benefit of the trolls.

I don't have any problem with allowing the voters of Seattle to decide which option they want, assuming of course, THEY are the ones paying the additional cost over the rebuild option.

What I do have a problem with is that for the last year or so, we've been hearing how our illustrious governor is going to decide which option will go forward, and now instead of deciding she puts it back to a vote. If she wanted this vote then fine, but why couldn't that have been decided right after the new taxes were upheld?

Now, we have to wait another year or whatever until another vote is put out after wrangling over what options are on the ballot and the wording. Nevermind that this project was sold to the voters as an emergency and it was a matter of "life and death" that we pass these new taxes. So much for that.

Posted by: Palouse on December 18, 2006 03:12 PM
19. Hey Palouse, which is my favorite part of the state by the way, I am in agreement with you. If Seattle voters are the only ones to vote, they should be the ones to pay. The viaduct tunnel has always been planned for the 11/07 RTID vote. I have long predicted the RTID vote will fail as long as the tunnel is in the package. The viadcut is a state highway and it is just as right for the state to pay for replacement of the current structure as it is for the state to pay for the highway between Pullman and the state line. The amenity Seattle wants should be paid for by Seattle. The argument proponents give about the vastly increased property value generating more tax dollars as a result of the tunnel is hogwash. With I-747, the amount of revenue coming to government from that increase (if there is any) is only 1 percent. I am not interested in paying for an amenity that raises the property values for wealthy condo owners but does little for governemnt services. It sounds like we want the same thing for different reasons. The election will be this spring and it should have been last fall. The Gov has said she wanted the election back then and was critical of Seattle officials for killing it. This way she gets what she wanted all along.

Posted by: Tacoma on December 18, 2006 03:38 PM
20. From the Seattle Times in 2005 when Gregoire was pushing the gas tax and trying to explain her flip flop on her Campaign promise not to raise taxes:

But Gregoire says she changed her mind after taking a recent field trip with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels to inspect the quake-damaged viaduct and aging 520 bridge. Experts say both are at risk of failing.

"I did not know how bad it was," said Gregoire. "If people die and I could have done more, I couldn't live with that."

If the viaduct falls down and kills someone the deceased's lawyers will love that quote.

Posted by: rob on December 18, 2006 06:26 PM
21. Tacoma - Don't be so quick to accept stereotypes. I have a long history of not liking Eyman, or the unofficial affiliation created between he and the state Republican party. I like leaders to make decisions and be held accountable for them rather than having the populace vote on every hot button issue of the day.

And, I actually agree with you that including the tunnel in the RTID package would likely kill it. Moreover, since the vote Gregoire is asking Seattle to take doesn't require corresponding taxes it sets up a false choice where Seattle voters could approve the tunnel then have the RTID (with everything else that would benefit the region) go down because no one wants to pay for the next Big Dig.

Posted by: Eric Earling on December 18, 2006 07:19 PM
22. That's fine Tacoma, but if "the buck stops" with Gregoire regarding the viaduct, then after I-912 was defeated in November 2005, she should have immediately put another question on the ballot in the spring of 2006 if she wanted a vote all along. Or if it was too soon in the spring, then it definitely should have been on the ballot in this last election in the fall of 2006.

Everyone familiar enough with Seattle politics knows they will talk an issue to death before coming to a decision. Leaders make decisions, and they do it decisively. If she was going to punt this back to the voters, my biggest criticism is that it was not done a year ago. Instead, we hear about how she will make a decision on the viaduct, and then we don't get one.

I will be very surprised if they can get a viaduct option ballot done in the spring, and a funding mechanism completed by the fall (if the tunnel option is chosen). But the more likely scenario is that Seattle chooses the sensible rebuild option and the RTID is on the fall ballot with some additional money on it for the cost overruns that are already occuring for the rebuild. If the vote for the rebuild is overwhelming, Nickels and the council will have little choice but to scrap their zoning threats.

Posted by: Palouse on December 19, 2006 08:18 AM
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