A rural Republican state representative has introduced legislation that would force Seattleites to pay for the cost overruns connected to the "Bertha" tunneling project along the city's waterfront.
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said his constituents in rural Cowlitz County have no interest in the Highway 99 tunnel project’s bloated budget.
The project is already at least $189 million over budget with several more years of work still to be done.
"The contractor should be paying the overruns, but that could be tied up in court for a long time," said Orcutt. "In the meantime, I'm setting up a mechanism where Seattle would keep its promise and pay."
Orcutt has introduced a bill that would force Seattle residents to pay for the overages through a 0.01 percent sales tax increase, a property tax hike of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or through a special taxing district.
"A promise was made to the taxpayers at the beginning of this project," said Orcutt. "They were told they weren't going to have to pay more than X dollars, and they shouldn't have to pay X plus 1."
Attending a celebration at the end of the two-mile tunnel where the massive digging machine nicknamed Bertha finally poked out her head, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the state attorney general issued an opinion stating local governments are not responsible for cost overruns like those associated with the tunnel.
Murray contended this is a state project and the overruns are the Department of Transportation's problem.
"We do not ask any county or city to pay for state projects. If we ask one to pay, all will pay, and I don't think the legislature wants to go there," said Murray.
Orcutt believes the bill will get broad bi-partisan support and hopes to have it to the governor's desk by the end of the legislative session later this month.