Seattle Courant

No Money For Mercer Mess, Who Knew?

By Keith Vance
February 25, 2009 09:02PM

"This has been known for weeks," said State Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island and Chair of the House Transportation committee. "I have not been able to understand why the mayor stood before the cameras and said that" the money was there for the Mercer Project.

Clibborn said that while the Mercer project was on the long list of requests for money, the more than $900 million of projects needed to be winnowed down, which her committee did.

"We gave the short list to the PSRC (Puget Sound Regional Council), and that's on the 18th," Clibborn said. Anyone following this issue, she said, "should have known on the 18th."

"Greg Nickels came to my office," she recalled, "and I told him there was no money, and that Sunday night Jan Drago called and I told her that there was no Mercer money."

Drago has denied knowing that the projects weren't on the list. She told the Seattle Weekly that while she did speak with Clibborn about the project list on Sunday - and the fact that Mercer Street was not on it - Drago said she didn't think that that was a definitive "no," even though Clibborn told her that she wasn't opening the list to local projects.

"Literally, until Tuesday morning at the DSA (Downtown Seattle Association) breakfast (which Jan attended) there was no certainty of what the project list looked like. It was a surprise to the City," said Katherine Fountain, legislative aide to Drago, via e-mail.

Nickels has been saying for weeks that the money would be there. The Seattle Times reported on Jan. 17 that Nickels predicted money from the feds was on its way. While not saying specifically that it's a done deal, Nickels' spokesman Alex Fryer is quoted as saying that there's plenty of evidence Seattle will get the money.

The city didn't get the money, and according to Clibborn there aren't, and never has there been, any local projects on the short list. She said that initially they were hoping for more money and more control over the money, but it didn't work out that way. She said the money was less than they had hoped for and it came with strings attached regarding how it could be spent.

So it appears that the state legislators specifically avoided putting local projects on the list from the beginning, and yet no one knew?

"It is mystifying that the state legislature would seek to eliminate Spokane Street and Mercer Street from its list of stimulus projects," Nickels said in a news release.

That's of course assuming that the projects were ever on the list, which according to Clibborn, they weren't.

So it appears that the City Council prematurely, and perhaps under false pretenses, voted to remove the spending restriction on the Mercer Project.

And so now, council members Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen have released a statement requesting that the council reconsider its Monday vote.

"It appears this vote was taken without council members knowing that the state transportation chairs had already decided not to propose funding this project from the federal stimulus funds. It raises the question whether the Council would have voted to proceed with this project if it had known that the city does not have the money to complete it.

The Council should re-examine its options with regard to the Mercer Project, and consider spending limitations."

Request for comment from Nickels was unanswered.

This story was updated on Feb. 26, 2009 at 11:35 a.m. after speaking with Rep. Clibborn and receiving an e-mail response from Drago's legislative aide.