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Originally published Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 12:51 PM

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Angry Gregoire rebukes McGinn, anti-tunnel referendum

Without ever mentioning the Seattle mayor's name, Gov. Chris Gregoire Thursday delivered a forceful rebuke to Mike McGinn and his campaign for a citywide vote on the waterfront tunnel.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Without ever mentioning the Seattle mayor's name, Gov. Chris Gregoire delivered a forceful rebuke Thursday to Mike McGinn and his campaign for a citywide vote on the waterfront tunnel.

In a Seattle news conference, flanked by leaders from the state, city and Port of Seattle, Gregoire attacked the suggestion that elected officials were ignoring public opinion in their determination to go forward with the Highway 99 viaduct replacement.

"By anyone's definition, the last decade has been an open public process and debate," the governor she said.

She then cited 61 public meetings, almost 17,000 public comments, a 2007 Seattle advisory vote in which voters rejected both a cut-and-cover tunnel and an elevated highway, a 29-member advisory committee that met 16 times and took public comment, a study of 90 alternative proposals and an environmental review of eight.

"Now there's talk about changing course," she said, alluding to the referendum campaign "Protect Seattle Now, backed by McGinn, that seeks an August vote on agreements signed by the city and state to proceed with the tunnel.

Supporters turned in almost 29,000 signatures Tuesday; 16,503 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Gregoire also attacked McGinn's most frequent objection to the tunnel — that Seattle taxpayers would be on the hook for cost overruns.

She said, as she has before, that it would be impossible to enforce a clause in the state funding bill that says Seattle property owners who benefit from the project must pay cost overruns. She then pledged to veto any attempt by the Legislature to make Seattle taxpayers pay.

"Today the only major risk for an overrun is delay," Gregoire said.

The governor warned that delaying through August the signed contract to build the tunnel would cost an extra $54 million, and $20 million a month thereafter.

"The cost of delay falls squarely on our taxpayers," she said.

City Attorney Pete Holmes filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block the referendum.

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He argued that the tunnel agreements, which cover use of city right-of-way and utility relocation, among other details, are administrative, not policy, and so not subject to referendum.

The city is seeking an April court date.

McGinn, who has encouraged donations to the campaign and granted leave to some of his staff to run it, did not attend the news conference at Seattle's Union Station.

Later he released a brief statement: "State law says Seattle will pay for all cost overruns on the deep-bored tunnel. Before putting the public on the hook for cost overruns, we should first ask their permission. That's why I support a public vote."

The campaign also has support from McGinn's closest City Council ally, Mike O'Brien. In a statement, he said he was "standing with the 29,000 residents who signed a petition asking for a chance to speak for themselves with a vote on this project."

King County Executive Dow Constantine also didn't invoke the mayor's name at the news conference, but said that the surface-transit option McGinn prefers for a viaduct replacement "guarantees gridlock."

He said the tunnel moves freight and people, removes an aging viaduct and creates jobs at a time of continued economic challenge.

"The contract is signed. The work is under way. Let's get this project built," he said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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