Inslee: Transportation package a must for 2013

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday that passing a transportation funding package this year must be a priority for the Washington Legislature.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Inslee said he is concerned that momentum for passing such a plan has been dissipating.

“We’re heading for a cliff on the condition our roads and bridges,” Inslee said. “They’re reaching the end of their useful life.”

House Democrats last month unveiled a $9.8 billion dollar transportation funding package that included a 10-cent bump in the gas tax and more than $3 billion in new bonds.

House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said Thursday she’s now working on a smaller version of the proposal with lawmakers in both chambers and she hopes to start counting votes to see if there’s enough support for passage.

Clibborn said the bill would continue relying on the gas tax and weight fees to drive revenue but would remove other funding sources that caused blowback, such as a car registration fee tied to the value of the vehicle, a hazardous substance tax and a $25 fee on bicycles costing more than $500. Those items accounted for close to $3 billion of her original proposal.

“I’m feeling better about it than I was a week ago,” Clibborn said.

There is reluctance among some lawmakers who don’t want to vote for new taxes, Clibborn said, but she also said lawmakers want the jobs and improved infrastructure that comes with a transportation measure.

Inslee declined to endorse specifics in Clibborn’s plan but said he agrees broadly with the scope of what she is seeking. He said he would prefer more focus on maintenance than on new projects.

Inslee is planning a trip Friday to Vancouver, Wash., where he will stump for lawmakers to allocate several hundred million dollars toward the Columbia River Crossing project. Inslee said that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told him recently that Washington state would put be putting $850 million in federal dollars at risk if the state doesn’t put up its share.

Oregon recently approved putting in $450 million toward the project, money that is contingent on Washington state also pitching in.

Some lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver, have said the state should revisit whether the bridge project should include light rail. Inslee said that light rail is non-negotiable.

“We have really only two options,” Inslee said. “This bridge or no bridge.”

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, has voiced skepticism about elements of Clibborn’s plan, including the gas tax hike. King and Benton did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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