OLYMPIA – Work on the North Spokane Corridor will continue along with numerous other projects already planned statewide thanks to an $11.8 billion transportation budget approved by the Legislature on Saturday.
The budget is backed heavily by federal money, allowing the state to move forward with projects despite a decline last year in some revenues usually reserved for transportation.
Still, some lawmakers lamented that the budget doesn’t go further in funding new projects.
“All this budget does is keeps the lights on,” Senate Transportation Chair Steve Hobbs said on the floor Saturday. “We really need to have some form of transportation investment, so we’re not going to go off a cliff, which will happen in a year or two.”
The budget keeps up maintenance for a year, continues to fund projects in the state’s 2015 Connecting Washington package and funds removal of culverts, a federal order that requires the state to move culverts that block salmon.
The plan uses $1 billion in federal stimulus funds, including $600 million to backfill pandemic-losses and $400 million to remove culverts.
The North Spokane Corridor remains funded in this budget, with $194 million in funding for the next two years.
Many lawmakers in both parties have called for a new transportation revenue package that would invest more money into new projects, something that can’t be funded until a new revenue source is passed. But there is wide disagreement about what that package would look like.
No proposal made it out of the Legislature this session, but lawmakers have indicated their willingness to work on it throughout the interim. If a deal is reached before next January, they may call themselves back into special session.
One holdup in the revenue package discussion was some lawmakers’ insistence on tying it to climate proposals, such as the cap-and-trade program and the clean fuel standards. Both of those bills passed the Legislature this weekend, but language in the bills would require a 5-cent gas tax increase to go into effect before the climate bills could.
The gas tax increase likely would be passed as part of a transportation package and could be used to fund new projects. In Spokane, a transportation revenue package could mean speeding up the North Spokane Corridor and funding a bus rapid transit line on Division Street.
Unlike a new massive revenue package, the two-year budget passed Sunday “keeps us from going backward,” Spokane Democrat Rep. Marcus Riccelli said.
The state is in a much better place than it could’ve been had federal money not come in, he said, but it doesn’t make new investments or make much progress on longterm maintenance.
A revenue package is the key to making those happen, he said.
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