OLYMPIA — A transportation package from the predominantly Republican Senate majority may be announced Thursday, although coalition leaders couldn't say Wednesday how much support it has in their caucus.
Instead, they took aim at Gov. Jay Inslee, accusing the governor of a lack of leadership in negotiating something that he and legislators have said the state needs for more than a year — a plan to build new highway projects, fix roads and bridges, reform transportation practices and generate support for the taxes needed to accomplish that. They haven't had a meeting with Inslee since the first day of the legislative session, Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said.
“We need to get back in that room,” Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said. “The governor's going to have to show a lot of leadership.”
A spokesman for Inslee called the criticism “utter nonsense” and a sign that those leaders are feeling the heat from constituents and business groups for their own inaction.
David Postman said staff from the governor's office has been in contact with the Curtis King, the Senate Republican working on the package, on a daily basis. The governor convened a dozen meetings on transportation with legislative leaders last year. They broke up in December with King saying it would be up to the Senate to come up with a package as a counter to the proposal House Democrats passed in that chamber, Postman said. According to some recent reports, that package might not be ready until a “lame duck” session after the November elections.
Tom and Schoesler parried questions about whether they had the votes to pass a transportation package by questioning whether House Democrats have the votes to approve the bonds needed for their proposal. Although a list of projects and taxes can pass with a simple majority, the bonds needed to build some of those projects by using the tax money require a three-fifths majority, 60 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate.
“To get to 30, the governor needs to get us in the room. Maybe then you can start meeting everybody's needs,” Tom said.
Inslee and House Democrats can't negotiate with Senate Republicans unless they have the votes to pass their package and get their members to agree to changes they sign off on. “The people who need to be locked in a room is the coalition,” Postman said.