September 17th, 2013 5:25 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Legislature, Politics

Kotek Memo: Kitzhaber "Likely" To Drag CRC into Special Session

Governor and House Speaker Continue To Push For Bridge Project

news3_crc_3731The One-State Solution - SOURCE: CRC

In March, Gov. John Kitzhaber and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) celebrated the passage of House Bill 2800, which provided $450 million for what was then the $3.4 billion Columbia River Crossing project.

The pair had convinced skeptical lawmakers to support the bill by including conditions for the expenditure of Oregon's $450 million—most notably, the condition or "trigger"  that Washington match Oregon's  contribution.

Here's what the bill said:

The Department of Transportation may not request and the State Treasurer may not issue any bond to finance the Interstate 5 bridge replacement project unless:

(a) No later than September 30, 2013, the State of Washington has appropriated, authorized or committed sufficient funds

In a March 13 press conference, Kitzhaber referred to the safeguards in the bill, saying "this is prudently conditioned upon the state of Washington making their allocation to the project."

Speaking after Kitzhaber, Kotek also referred to the "triggers and strong financial oversight in the bill." 

But as a memo (PDF) from Kotek's staff WW obtained today shows, Kitzhaber and Kotek continue to move the project forward even though the most important condition in the bill—Washington's contribution—has not been met.

Kotek circulated a memo to House Democrats during the current interim legislative session that makes a mockery of the safeguards many lawmakers thought were protecting Oregon taxpayers. 

Salem observers expect the special legislative session the governor tentatively called for Sept. 30 to address cuts to the Public Employee Retirement System and possible tax increases. But Kotek's memo says the session is also likely to address reviving the CRC:

If the Treasurer's review finds that the Oregon-led project is financially feasible and provides the necessary safeguards for the State and Oregon taxpayers, the Governor is likely to ask the presiding officers to take up the [CRC] issue during the potential special session tentatively slated for September 30," the memo says. 

The memo also includes some claims that are at best self-serving and, at worst, false.

For instance, prior to the Washington Senate's vote this July to kill the CRC, project sponsors had cited the Washington Department of Transportation's superior experience with financing and building big projects such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge as a selling point. Now, it seems, the new Oregon-only strategy is actually a benefit.

Here's what the memo says:

Having one decision-making authority will streamline project management and increase efficiency. ODOT has developed a strong track record working with public and private partners to complete projects on time and on budget.

The truth is that ODOT has never taken on a project any  where close to the the size and complexity of the CRC. And when it has, its record is poor—for example, as the Highway 20 project near Eddyville which is years behind schedule and will cost more than twice the original $110 million budget; and the Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard viaduct in Portland, which cost three times its original $32 million budget.

Another new piece of information in the memo is the fact that Oregon will assume responsibility for to pay for the $140 million adjustments to the SR 14 interchange, which unlike the proposed bridge, will be located entirely within the state of Washington.

"To pay for the $140 million adjustments to the SR 14 interchange, the tolling period would ned to be extended,  possibly for 7-8 years," the memo says.
Jared Mason-Gere, a spokesman for Kotek says the memo was meant to bring lawmakers up to speed on what's happened on the CRC since they adjourned in early July.

"The question is whether there's a path forward for this project," Mason-Gere says. "There's no bait-and-switch here. In many ways, we're just consider whether the project can be restarted but a lot of questions have to be answered first."

Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) a CRC skeptic who pushed for conditions in House Bill 2800, including the condition that Washington match Oregon's $450 million contribution says getting lawmakers to vote for the project again will be a tall order. He says the way he reads House Bill 2800, the project's bonding authority expires on Sept. 30.

"They're going to have to pass a new bill," Greenlick says. "That seems a little optimistic."

Greenlick says he's disappointed but not surprised bridge proponents continued to move even after Washington lawmakers apparently killed the project.

"This is nothing new. They worked on this and spent money long before they had specific authority," Greenlick says. "I think they just assume they have the authority."

Kitzhaber's spokesman, Tim Raphael, says the governor has not yet decided whether he will ask lawmakers to vote for an expanded CRC funding package.

"There has been no decision made about a special session, but the clock is ticking," Raphael says. "The first priority is the treasurer's review to determine whether an Oregon-led project is financially feasible and provides the necessary safeguards for Oregon taxpayers. We await the treasurer's review."
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