Budget done, and little else, Legislature adjourns

OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers adjourned for the year Saturday, bringing to end a grueling six months of work that included two overtime sessions needed to resolve budget disputes.

The Legislature moved to disperse from Olympia on Saturday evening, a day after completing a new operating budget that had been the product of tense negotiations for weeks. The final hours included more combative talks about a transportation funding package that failed to get a vote in the state Senate.

This year’s gridlock in the Capitol led lawmakers to blow past their initial April deadline, and they needed two additional sessions to complete the work. State workers had been notified of a potential government shutdown, but Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to formally sign a budget Sunday to prevent that from happening.

It’s been more than 20 years since a budget was finished so late in the process.

Lawmakers grappled throughout the year with how to bridge the wide philosophical differences between a Republican-dominated majority in the Senate and a House chamber controlled by Democrats. The House had proposed some $1 billion in new revenue this year in order to help put more money into the education system. The Senate balked at such plans and countered with a variety of policy proposals that irked Democrats.

The final dispute came to a culmination Saturday afternoon, when the Senate declined to take up a $10 billion transportation package despite intense lobbying from business groups and Gov. Jay Inslee.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said he and his colleagues were unified in their opposition to the plan this session. They plan to work over the coming months to help develop a proposal that lawmakers could consider next year, Tom said.

“We’re going to lead on this issue,” said Tom, a Democrat from Medina who leads a majority dominated by Republicans.

Tom said improved infrastructure is important for the state’s economic vitality but that lawmakers first need to address policy changes for transportation projects, such as a new approach to the environmental review process. He also said the list of projects funded by the package would need to be focused more on improving congestion.

Senate Democrats made a last-ditch effort to pull the package to the floor for a vote through a procedural move but were unable to get the votes needed to succeed.

The failure of the plan came despite pressure from Inslee, who had hoped the bill would be approved this weekend. Business leaders, who have often been aligned with this year’s Senate majority, had also asked for the bill, saying transportation improvements were necessary.

“I’m beyond disappointed in this inaction,” Inslee said in a statement issued late Saturday afternoon. “The failure by the Senate’s Republican-led majority to act on the transportation plan stops us from making important investments in maintaining and preserving our roads and bridges and ensuring the safety the public deserves.”

The packaged approved by the House would have included a 10 1/2-cent increase in the gas tax in order to pay for a series of large projects, including State Route 167, the North Spokane Corridor, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and a replacement bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon.

That Columbia River bridge was widely opposed by Republicans in the state Senate, who said the current proposal for the bridge was too low and should not include light rail transit. They also expressed concern about the costs.

Supporters said it was time to approve that bridge. Oregon and Washington are each responsible for $450 million of the replacement span, with the federal government and toll revenue paying the rest. Oregon has already approved its portion, and officials have expressed concern that federal money provided for the project will fall through if Washington state fails to act.

“Washington has lost $850 million in federal funds that would have helped us build a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia River,” Inslee wrote.

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