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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

March 5, 2014 at 10:15 AM

Senate votes to make Medina, Seattle pay bridge cost overruns – and changes mind

The state Senate on Tuesday voted to force Medina property owners and the City of Seattle to pay for any cost overruns associated with construction of the new Highway 520 bridge, and then had second thoughts.

The back story? Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, proposed an amendment to the Senate’s transportation budget that would restate existing law suggesting Seattle should pay for any cost overruns related to the Alaskan Way viaduct replacement project.

Lawmakers were calling it the Bertha amendment on Tuesday because it was partly spurred by the tunnel boring machine stuck under downtown Seattle, which has folks worried about the ultimate cost of the project. Baumgartner said he wanted to make it clear “the people of the rest of the state aren’t going absorb the cost overruns of Bertha.”

Democrats have long said the Seattle cost overrun provision, approved by the Legislature in 2009, is vague and unenforceable — a sentiment that was shared by former Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna.

Even so, Baumgartner’s amendment ticked off Senate Democrats. So Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, proposed an amendment requiring “property owners in the Medina area” to pay for cost overruns associated with Highway 520 bridge replacement project.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom is from Medina. He crossed party lines last year to give Republicans control of the Senate.

Not to be outdone, Baumgartner amended Pedersen’s amendment to require both Medina residents and “the City of Seattle” to pay for 520 cost overruns.

During a kerfuffle on the Senate floor, and apparently to the surprise of many, lawmakers voted to require both Medina and Seattle to pay for Highway 520 cost overruns.

The transportation budget was immediately put on hold and the GOP-led majority retreated behind closed doors for a long discussion.

They eventually emerged, went back to the floor and Baumgartner withdrew his Bertha amendment before it came up for a vote. Then the Senate unanimously agreed to kill the Highway 520 amendment. The chamber later approved the transportation budget, an otherwise uncontroversial measure that makes tweaks in state spending.

Pedersen said the goal of his proposal was to kill Baumgartner’s Bertha amendment.

“The point of it is not to stick Medina and Seattle with the costs on 520,” he said. “It’s to illustrate the lunacy of having property owners in the Seattle area pay for overruns on the viaduct.”

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