EVERETT — A simmering debate on a proposed multi-billion dollar transportation funding plan touched down here Wednesday where people urged a panel of lawmakers to settle their differences to make it happen.
Speaker after speaker said money is needed to fix roads, bridges and highways and expand bus service. The longer the state goes without making an investment, the worse the situation will become, they said.
“The time to act is now,” Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson told the eight Democratic and Republican lawmakers taking part in the forum.
Wednesday marked the second of 10 stops on a “listening tour” conceived by the Republican-controlled Majority Coalition Caucus in the state Senate. The event drew an overflow crowd of about 150 people to the Snohomish County Administration Building.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, co-chairpersons of the Senate Transportation Committee, conducted the meeting, which got off to an awkward start when a technical glitch prevented use of a microphone for the first few speakers.
Early on, the event felt much like a hearing in Olympia during the legislative session.
Nearly every one of the first 25 speakers was an elected official or representative of a labor union or business group. Not surprisingly, each expressed support of generating money for transportation, and in some cases, for a specific project in their community.
Tim Eyman of Mukilteo prompted a few snickers in the crowd when he pointed this out.
“Normal human beings are not in the crowd tonight,” he said and demanded any revenue-raising plan agreed to by lawmakers be put on the ballot.
“Wanting more money does not justify taking it,” he said. “Let the voters decide.”
Lawmakers are divided along party lines on transportation funding.
Democrats endorse a $10 billion funding package anchored by a 10.5-cent hike in the gas tax while Republicans insist they won’t negotiate on that package unless some of their reform proposals are attached to it.
House Democrats did pass the proposal in June but Senate Republicans didn’t vote on it saying they wanted to do this tour to gauge public opinion on the amount of proposed spending and the slate of reforms.
Last week in Lynnwood, Gov. Jay Inslee said he is willing to call a special session this winter if House and Senate leaders strike a deal.
And in what could be viewed as an olive branch, Assistant Secretary of Transportation David Moseley told the panel Wednesday that the department is “very willing and anxious” to discuss reforms sought by House and Senate members.
“We do believe this needs to be a reform and revenue package,” he said.
Most people on Wednesday focused on revenue and how they’d like it to be spent on widening roads, expanding bus service and, in Edmonds and Marysville, building passes over railroad tracks.
Donetta Walser, former mayor of Monroe, appealed to them to improve the safety on U.S. 2 where she said 89 people have been killed in accidents since January 1990.
“How many people have to die on U.S. 2 before major changes are made,” she said.
Union members, who said the package could create thousands of jobs, spoke against the GOP proposal to reform the state’s prevailing wage laws.
Outside the meeting, Chris Glenn, a building trades member who lives near Lynnwood, summed up the feelings of many of his fellow union members in the room.
“Pass the package. Spend the money,” he said. “A transportation package puts union workers to work. They make pretty good money and they spend it here.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.