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August 8, 2013 at 6:39 AM
Did we really make the Port of Seattle pay for part of the tunnel?
Our news story, “Port OKs bond sale for tunnel project,” makes clear what should have been clear all along: that having the Port of Seattle “pay” for one-tenth of the Highway 99 tunnel doesn’t really mean that the profits or the wealth of the Port are funding the tunnel. Mostly not.
Some commenters don’t get this. “CdnSteve,” in Auburn, writes: “Of course, the Port should kick in this money. The hundreds of gypsy trucks that serve the port otherwise would clog the city with endless lines of container carriers… We all have to pay…including the Port.”
How will the Port “kick in”? The idea seems to be that it will pass on $231 million to the shipping lines that call here. But the Port doesn’t generally deal with them. It rents to terminal operators who deal with shipping lines. The terminal operators have multiyear contracts with the Port. The Port can’t just pad the tab by $231 million because it was asked to “kick in” on a tunnel. And when the contracts come up, the Port is reminded that it is in a competitive industry. It charges what it can get in the market, not what it feels it needs.
The Port will fund the tunnel obligation by borrowing. It will borrow $231 million and charge it to property owners. The property owners in its taxing district will pay. If King County had to do it, it would borrow the money and charge it to the property owners in its taxing district. And it’s the same district. The same owners. Whether the county’s or the port’s credit is used might limit the appetites of one and not the other in the future, and make a difference that way. But it makes little immediate difference to taxpayers.