OLYMPIA – A legislative compromise over a controversial bridge over the Columbia River was sliced out of the state’s $8.8 billion transportation budget Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee, who insisted it would endanger federal money and could lead to the bridge not being built.
Just hours after he joined a rally on the Capitol steps by union members and business leaders who are calling for even more spending on roads, bridges, buses and ferries, Inslee cut a provision that would limited the amount of federal money funneled through the state to the Columbia River Crossing bridge at $81 million – and then only if the U.S. Coast Guard approved the project’s building permit. If the Coast Guard doesn’t approve the permit, the money would be spent to study on a new bridge design.
If the Coast Guard doesn’t issue the permit, there’s no need to spend that money on a new design, he said. The state will lose federal funding for the bridge and “there is no other viable option to building this bridge in the next 10 years,” he said.
The bridge was a major sticking point over the state’s two-year transportation budget during the regular session, with some Republicans from southwest Washington insisting it was a flawed design that should be scrapped. The $81 million limitation and study provision was an attempt to strike a compromise that allowed the entire two-year transportation budget to move through the two chambers. But Inslee insisted Monday that deep concern over the bridge was held by only a few senators.
“We don’t build appropriations to nowhere,” Inslee said. “This veto help sharpen legislators’ minds.”
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But with the veto, he may set up a confrontation with those senators over another transportation package he has listed as one of his top priorities for the special session. The bill signed Monday is for projects that current taxes and fees can pay for. Another bill is being negotiated for a new set of gasoline taxes and fees that could cover as much as $9.5 billion in new mega projects and significant maintenance of existing roads and bridges over the next 12 years.
In the morning, shouts of “Pass it Now” filled the Capitol steps as supporters of that new package tried to goad legislators – many of whom aren’t in Olympia right now – into action.
In front of the podium where a couple hundred sign-carrying protesters in hard hats and safety vests. Behind the podium were folks in suits and ties. It was a visual reminder that the package has the support of labor unions and the state's business community.
“We've got to finish what we have started,” Inslee told the crowd. “It is crunch time…There is a tooth fairy but there is no transportation fairy.”
Along with money for the controversial bridge between Portland and Vancouver, some legislators also want any new taxes the package to be sent to a statewide vote in November by including a referendum clause in the legislation.
House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said a referendum clause is still part of negotiations, even though she believes the Legislature should make the decision to avoid a loss in November that would set projects back.
“We know it's coming up in the Senate,” she said of demands for a referendum clause.
Also under negotiations is the size of the package, between $8 billion and $9.5 billion over 12 years, depending on the size and timing of tax increases, and the kinds of options local governments might get to handle their transportation needs.