OLYMPIA — Washington faces reduced maintenance on roads and bridges as well as cuts in mass transit because the Legislature did not pass a major package this year of transportation projects funded by higher gasoline taxes, Gov. Jay Inslee said early Friday morning.
The Legislature finished its 60-day session at 11:53 p.m. after a flurry of final day bills that included some modest changes to its operating budget, a bill to allow all veterans to receive instate tuition at state universities and colleges and an extension of a fee that helps pay for programs that fight homelessness.
There were big wins in the constitutionally short session, particularly a law earlier in the year that allows the Washington high school students who aren’t legal residents but grew up in Washington to be eligible for some college aid, Inslee said shortly after midnight. But, he added, “there’s a lot left undone.”
The state’s supplemental budget will spend an extra $58 million on public schools. That’s less than the $200 million he proposed last year, and far less than the looming obligations for public schools that a state Supreme Court decision mandates.
“The court will have to do with that what it will,” Inslee said. The Legislature has until April 30 to tell the court its plan for meeting the mandate by the 2017-19 budget.
The governor said he was disappointed the Legislature didn’t include a cost-of-living increase for teachers in the budget, or pass a separate bill to change teacher evaluation standards to meet federal guidelines. The U.S. Department of Education has warned it could withhold $40 million a year in federal funds, and Inslee said he believes they will make good on that threat.
He was puzzled why efforts to merge the recreational and medical marijuana systems fell apart in the closing days. But he was “extremely disappointed” and visibly angry about the Legislature’s failure, for the second year, to develop a transportation package that would pay for some major projects, increase maintenance on existing roads and bridges, and spend money on ferries and buses.
“That’s going to be the biggest problem for Washington,” Inslee said.
He blamed the failure of the predominantly Republican coalition that controls the Senate, which failed to bring a transportation package to the floor for a vote. Senate Republicans said earlier this week that transportation packages are traditionally bipartisan, and Democrats were unwilling to provide some of the votes to pass the proposal and move it into negotiations with the House. Inslee, they added, should have issued a promise not to impose low carbon fuel standards by executive order and done more to bring the sides together for a negotiated deal.
“If excuses were money, the Majority Coalition would be multimillionaires,” Inslee said. “You can’t fix your roads with excuses.”
Unless there’s some change from Senate Republicans, any transportation package will have to wait until 2015, he said.