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Gov. Jay Inslee pushes transportation plan

Gov. Jay Inslee toured Spokane on Wednesday, urging state lawmakers to craft a new transportation bill that would include money for the North Spokane Corridor.

“I think we ought to have a transportation package before the Apple Cup in the state of Washington,” Inslee said from the Francis Avenue bridge, scheduled to be completed by early next year as part of efforts to rejuvenate Highway 395 as a thoroughfare to Canada. The timetable would require the Legislature to hold another special session – its third of the year – to reach an agreement before the Cougars and Huskies face off Nov. 29 on the football field.

Inslee’s renewed push came just a day after his announcement that he won’t include state money for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon, which was a major obstacle to getting a transportation package through the Legislature earlier this year that included increased gas taxes and other fees. The state Senate, controlled by conservatives, opposed the $450 million bridge project in part because Oregon wanted the new span to be able to accommodate light rail.

Inslee will meet with Washington legislative leaders later this month to talk about a new transportation package that will begin with a “blank slate,” the governor said.

“There are no excuses for inaction here,” Inslee said. “None.”

To a room full of state and local legislators, business leaders and representatives of organized labor at the downtown library, Inslee said his mind was open to suggestions about ways to save money on transportation costs, another imperative offered by Senate GOP members. While saying he would entertain ideas about revising wages for construction and praising efforts by Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson to push practical design as a way to save money, as seen in the Francis Avenue span’s wider sidewalks and narrower traffic lanes at residents’ request, Inslee announced he’d nix a proposal that would eliminate a construction sales tax on road projects.

“We’re not going to take money out of our schools to put it into our roads,” Inslee said.

While attendees brought up several projects in the Spokane area needing state money, including the planned Central City Line connecting the Spokane Community College campus to downtown and Browne’s Addition, Inslee said to get the votes needed for passage, local legislators would have to set aside their geographic bias.

“I can tell you that the more people in Eastern Washington who vote for a transportation package, the more dollars there will be invested in Eastern Washington,” Inslee said.

The transportation meeting kicked off a busy day for the governor in the Lilac City.

Inslee touts health care exchange

At a kickoff event for the Washington health insurance exchange’s mobile enrollment tour, Inslee acknowledged the speed bumps experienced by users in the first few days after the Health Plan Finder website went live.

“We started this project the way all great software projects start … with a few glitches,” Inslee said Wednesday afternoon from the parking lot of the Native Project in the West Central neighborhood. Behind him sat a trailer, bound for several locations throughout the state during the next month, filled with computers and staff assisting visitors in obtaining health care plans through the online marketplace.

According to Inslee, almost 25,000 Washington residents have signed up for a plan since the exchange opened Oct. 1, with 30,000 more completing applications. Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, said any lingering problems with the software would be resolved over the next couple of weeks.

Organizers did not provide a total number of people who registered Wednesday, but they said the trailer’s 12 computers were occupied all day. Its next stop will be Sunday at the Yakima Farmer’s Market.

Going green on East Side

Events addressing climate change and the economy rounded out the governor’s calendar Wednesday. Inslee spoke at the city’s fifth annual State of the Green Economy conference at the Davenport Hotel, along with Avista chairman Scott Morris and Ash Awad of McKinstry Co.

Inslee called climate change a serious issue. He said the job of government is to encourage industry to develop solutions.

“The single most important thing in this is to unleash entrepreneurial talent,” Inslee said. To do that, Inslee appears poised to introduce a carbon tax as he seeks to “create a demand for clean energy products.” A study looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions to legally mandated totals through 2050 was released by Inslee’s office earlier this week. It lists a carbon tax, improving vehicle emission standards and pushing biofuels for public transportation as potential options to explore in the next legislative session.

A series of public comment sessions are planned throughout the state through December to discuss the options. Inslee appeared at a climate change-focused event, along with state legislators of both parties in an environmental work group, at Spokane Falls Community College on Wednesday night.

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