Digging out facts of Seattle Monorail
On Aug. 16, the sole bid to build the monorail was $200 million higher than expected. It would have been nice to know about this gap before...
On Aug. 16, the sole bid to build the monorail was $200 million higher than expected. It would have been nice to know about this gap before the Nov. 2 election, when the people of Seattle were asked for their opinion on the monorail.
We found out about this yesterday — not from the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority, which has sat on this embarrassing fact for six months, but from Seattle Times reporter Mike Lindblom, who dug it out. The gap does explain some things, such as why monorail officials have been asking the Legislature for authority to sell 50-year bonds, and to exceed the $1.5 billion debt limit by borrowing to pay interest, and to set higher taxable values on cars and trucks so the agency can collect more tax. Now we know: The Monorail Authority is short.
That is no crime. But it is something the public ought to be informed of, because they are the owners of it. Right from the beginning, the agency had a tendency to forget that.
The Monorail Authority began by spending freely, hiring architects to draw designs for stations the public liked but were too expensive to build. In 2004, it paid staff members an average of $80,000 a year, 17 percent more than Sound Transit paid its staff. And it could have been worse. Early in 2003, when the system was only 5 percent designed, it asked the Legislature for authority to sell up to $1 billion in bonds — an action blocked by State Treasurer Mike Murphy.
The Monorail Authority also had a penchant for secrecy — so much so that it took a member of the public, Rick Hangartner, all the way to the Washington Supreme Court in order to keep documents secret — and won out. More recently, staff also did not bother to tell its own directors that it was lobbying the Legislature for authority to sell 50-year bonds.
Now this: Six months ago, the bid came in $200 million high. We cannot say it is a surprise, because it isn't. It is not even a surprise that it was kept secret. It becomes standard operating procedure.
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