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Monday, April 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Transportation budget passes, could end ‘pause’ on major highway projects

UPDATED: Wed., March 11, 2020

Construction continues on May 20, 2015, during a press conference at the North Spokane Corridor. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Construction continues on May 20, 2015, during a press conference at the North Spokane Corridor. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – A $10.3 billion budget designed to resume work on transportation projects on “pause” because of last year’s initiative to reduce fees and taxes for vehicle license tabs passed the Legislature with overwhelming majorities by both chambers on Wednesday.

The budget “solves a huge problem” from Initiative 976 but only for a year, Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said.

“It’s a budget that works for this year, but we’ve got a lot of work to do in the coming years,” he warned.

The potential loss of some $450 million from taxes and fees prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to order a seven-month or “pause” – from last September through June – to starting new work on some long-term projects, including the North Spokane Corridor. The delay was designed to give the Legislature time to rewrite the budget it passed last April before the initiative went on the ballot.

The initiative passed but was challenged in court, and will eventually be decided by the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, the state continues to collect the taxes and fees on license tabs, but is not spending it in case the money has to be refunded.

Much of the hole was filled by moving some money that was allocated but not spent on projects that have fallen behind schedule. That’s not a long-term solution, Hobbs said, but it should allow the governor to lift the pause on projects.

But it does have money for roads, bridges and mass transit projects all over the state, including more than $267 million for those in Spokane County. Among those projects are the following:

  • $177.4 million for the North Spokane Corridor
  • $48.8 million for improvements in the Interstate 90 corridor through Spokane
  • $14.4 million to replace the State Route 90/East Trent bridge
  • $11.7 million to Spokane Transit Authority for the Central City Line
  • $7.7 million in Regional Mobility Grants

Sen. Curtis King, Yakima, the top Republican on the Transportation Committee, agreed the Legislature will have to find a “fair and equitable way” to pay for projects in the coming years. Although the negotiated plan is not a perfect budget, “it still is a good budget,” he said.

The budget passed unanimously in the Senate and 96-1 in the House. All Spokane-area legislators voted for it.

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