By Jerry Cornfield
Approving a new budget may be the most important task for state lawmakers in this second not-so-special session.
But it may not be the last thing they do before adjourning for the year.
Gov. Jay Inslee said this afternoon he wants the Legislature to approve a transportation funding package before they wrap up and depart.
If not, there’s a chance he’d call them back for a third overtime.
“I’ve said from Day One that I want this Legislature to approve a transportation package and I remain very hopeful it will get done this session,” he told reporters at an afternoon news conference.
“I intend to insist that legislators stay until they get their jobs done. And one of those important jobs is to deal with deficient bridges, deficient roads, needs for new construction, light rail systems and they should not go home until they get that job done.”
So might he call them back for a third special session?
“I don’t think there’s a reason for that,” he said. “I’ll tell you that this is probably the number one issue for job creation in the state of Washington so it is certainly not something I would rule out.”
Earlier this week Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, cautioned against hoping for success by keeping lawmakers in town for any length of time once the budget is done.
“Go to any caucus and say, ‘Let’s spend July here doing transportation’ and see what their reactions are,” he said.
Nonetheless, Inslee’s comments should be music to the ears of those representing cities, counties, business groups, labor unions and environmental organizations who’ve been agitating for action on a multi-billion dollar transportation funding package.
They may get their wish in the House with a vote once the operating and capital budgets are approved. Speaker Frank Chopp has told anyone who will listen that that is the only time it will come up – if it comes up.
“We’re getting it ready. We’re working to get it done,” said Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn of Mercer Island, the chairwoman of the House Transportation and the author of the package. “It can move fast.”
Clibborn’s plan calls for spending roughly $8.6 billion on projects over a 12-year period. The biggest chunk of that money would come from a 10-cent hike in the gas tax phased in over a four-year period.
While it seems the House would pass her plan, its fate is far from certain in the Senate.
Senate Majority Coalition leaders have repeatedly said there’s little interest in acting on the plan if it continues to include $450 million for building a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.