OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said Saturday that he still believed a compromise could be reached this weekend on a $10 billion Washington state transportation package that has passed the House but hit a roadblock in the Senate.
“This is a very important issue,” Inslee said. “You cannot overstate the economic ramifications of the Senate not producing, not voting on, not allowing us to move forward on transportation this year.”
Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn, the chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, had said Friday night that it became clear over the past week that the Senate was not willing to work with her plan, which would have included a 101/2-cent increase in the gas tax. She initially said the issue was dead, but after the governor’s office told her it was still working on the package, Clibborn later backed off that comment, saying she considered the measure on life support but would continue working on it.
Business leaders support the package, saying it’s necessary because the state’s highways and bridges can’t wait any longer for improvements. Jocelyn McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Association of Washington Business, said the group wasn’t ready to close the door on the bill and was continuing to work with lawmakers in both chambers.
Inslee says he’s still hopeful a transportation package could pass through the Senate by tonight.
“We want the forces in the middle to prevail,” Inslee said Saturday. “We want the forces of bipartisanship to prevail.”
Republican Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima lawmaker who co-chairs the chamber’s transportation committee, said he is among those who believe more transportation revenue will be needed in the next two or three years. However, he didn’t anticipate lawmakers finding common ground before lawmakers adjourn.
“This isn’t the year,” King said.
King said he didn’t believe that members in his caucus would peel off to support the package this year. He said that would require his colleagues to go around him — bypassing his committee — and would disrupt the group’s long-standing efforts to work in unison.
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler also said he didn’t see the package as something the chamber would support.
Republican Sen. Joe Fain, meanwhile, said he’d like to see a transportation package pass. He said he is in discussions about it but cautioned that it would be difficult to complete one at this stage and that Clibborn’s proposal would need to go through substantial changes to make it palatable for some Republicans.
Fain said that reforms would need to be a part of any compromise, including those dealing with cost containment of projects. He says he’s met with the governor several times to discuss ideas.
“I’m doing my best,” he said.
A version of the proposal approved by the state House included $3.2 billion for several state road projects, including State Route 167, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and a replacement bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon.
That Columbia River bridge was widely opposed by Republicans in the state Senate, who said the current proposal for the bridge was too low and should not include light rail transit. They also expressed concern about the costs.
Supporters, meanwhile, said now was the time to approve that bridge. Oregon and Washington are each responsible for $450 million of the replacement span, with the federal government and toll revenue paying the rest. Oregon has already approved its portion, and officials have expressed concern that federal money provided for the project will fall through if Washington state fails to act.
When asked if a package without the Columbia River Crossing was acceptable, Inslee said that the project was “very important to the economics of the state of Washington.”
Clibborn said lawmakers could try and return to the issue next year, but she suspects it may have to wait until 2015. In the meantime, she said motorists concerned about traffic and road conditions may want to put pressure on lawmakers and ask for change.