OLYMPIA — Snohomish County is the state’s third most populous and home to a bustling manufacturing industry, but community leaders are concerned it may get shortchanged when a plan to raise billions of dollars for transportation surfaces this week.
They’ve been lobbying hard for inclusion of hundreds of millions of dollars for projects aimed at sustaining one of the most robust county economies in Washington.
They pitched their message directly to leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees Friday at a lunch buffet in a downtown Olympia restaurant. About 75 business, labor, environmental and political leaders came from every corner of the county to take part.
“I don’t think we’ve done a good job promoting … the importance of Snohomish County as an economic engine for our state,” said Troy McClelland, president of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, which organized the event.
Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers echoed the sentiment.
“We’re here to remind people what we’ve got going on in Snohomish County and ask them not to forget us,” Somers said.
The chief targets of their reminding were Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, who runs the House transportation panel, and Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, who jointly run the Senate committee.
Clibborn is piecing together the package to raise in the neighborhood of $7 billion. When she gives it to the Senate this week, it is expected to include a 10-cent increase in the gas tax and higher weight fees for passenger and commercial vehicles.
This will be smaller than the $9.8 billion package she unfurled in February. Political opposition led her to drop plans for a motor vehicle excise tax, a new fee on bike sales and an increase in the hazardous substance tax.
On Friday, 10 state representatives from Snohomish County signed a letter to Clibborn asking that she include up to $871 million for 16 projects. They pledged to vote for the package if it supports the projects.
Clibborn is well aware of the concern that there were too few dollars in the original package and noted that plan did include funding for adding a second bridge over the Snohomish River on Highway 9. She made no promises in the next version.
“Your list is long,” Clibborn told the crowd. “Some of it is already on the list” of projects in the package.
King, the Yakima Republican who has not yet supported a package, praised the crowd for making a forceful presentation.
“As we move forward we will keep your needs and your wants and your wishes in mind,” he said.
If there are too few dollars, there might be too few votes among the county’s Democrat-heavy delegation to pass it.
“We have a lot going on in Snohomish County and just because we don’t have a mega-project doesn’t mean we can be ignored and left out,” Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said in an interview before the event. “The revenue package won’t pass if it doesn’t make investments in the county.”
Snohomish County received its share of dollars in packages financed with gas-tax hikes of a nickel in 2003 and 9.5 cents in 2005, according to data compiled by the state Department of Transportation.
With the nickel package, the county generated $479.3 million in revenue and received $577.8 million in spending. That worked out to $1.21 for every $1 contributed, according to the report.
It didn’t do quite as well in 2005, when more of the dollars went to mega-projects such as replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. The state report found that Snohomish County contributed $379.8 million and received $373.4 million in expenditures, or 98 cents for every $1.
While Friday’s primary message was how new transportation dollars are critically important for the county’s economy, it had a secondary purpose of exposing the difficulties of even getting a revenue package passed. There’s no bill today, and the session is set to end April 28.
Several speakers said the challenge is Republicans who are reluctant or opposed because it’s a tax vote. Without some GOP support, the effort is doomed.
“I have 24 votes and I need 25,” declared Eide, the Federal Way Democrat, referring to the minimum number of votes needed to pass legislation in the Senate. “My challenge to you … is to go talk to Republicans. If this isn’t the year, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know when it will be.”
Three Republican state lawmakers attended — King, Rep. Dave Hayes of Camano Island and Sen. Kirk Pearson of Monroe.
“I need to see the whole package,” said Hayes, who serves on the transportation panel. “I really do believe we need to work on some reform. How can we sit there and promise people we will use the money wisely without these reforms?”
Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine, a Republican who strongly backs a revenue package, said partisanship needs to be excised from the debate.
“It isn’t a Democrat or a Republican thing. It’s an economic thing,” he said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The wish list
Ten Snohomish County lawmakers requested $871 million for 16 projects to be included in a statewide transportation revenue package. They outlined the projects in a letter sent to Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee. Here’s their list:
•U.S. 2 trestle in Everett, first phase, widening: $250 million
Highway 9: Second Snohomish River Bridge: $129 million
I-5 and 156th Street NE interchange in Marysville: $42 million
I-5 and 116th Street NE interchange in Marysville: $36 million
I-5 and Highway 529 interchange in Everett: $60 million
I-5 northbound, add shoulder lanes near Marine View Drive, Everett: $35 million
41st Street, Rucker Avenue freight corridor in Everett: $1.5 million
Mukilteo ferry terminal relocation: $89 million
Highway 526 and Hardeson Road interchange in Everett: $44 million
Highway 524 widening from 48th Avenue W. to 37th Avenue W.: $14 million
Poplar Way Extension Bridge in Lynnwood: $30 million
Highway 9 widening from 176th Street SE to Highway 96: $65 million
Highway 522, improve interchange at Paradise Lake Road: $40 million
Highway 99 improvements for Edmonds Gateway: $10 million
Highway 9 and Highway 204 interchange: $25 million
Construction engineering and design for 35th Avenue SE, Mill Creek: $500,000
Source: April 5 letter from House members to Clibborn