By Jerry Cornfield
As expected, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus today announced plans to hold hearings on ways to raise billions of dollars for transportation improvements and reform how the state spends its money on road projects.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, today called for seven public meetings around the state at which residents and civic leaders can tell lawmakers where new money should be spent and policies they think need to be changed.
“In order to pass a transportation package of any substance there will likely be a need for additional revenue to pay for projects,” King said in a statement. “But before we go to the people asking for more money, the state needs to prove that it’s already stretching every dollar it has. We’ve compiled a list of ten reforms that could be implemented to save millions of dollars with minimal impact to other areas of the budget, and it’s our intention to discuss those ideas with (Department of Transportation) and the public at these meetings.”
King wrote Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson suggesting a schedule of meetings starting Sept. 18 in Tacoma. Subsequent meetings would be held in Vancouver, Seattle, Everett, Wenatchee, Spokane and Tri-Cities.
King wrote that after the meetings “a final negotiated transportation revenue package and agreed upon reforms would be put into legislative form and introduced in both chambers at the first available opportunity.”
A DOT spokesman said the secretary had received the letter and was reviewing it.
Transportation funding was one of the most debated issues in the regular session and two special sessions this year. House Democrats drew up a $10 billion funding package and finally passed it at the end of the second special session. It never came up for a vote in the Senate which is controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats.
The coalition is now ready to start the conversation. A key for members is getting serious consideration of 10 reforms including speeding up the permitting process and changing requirements related to prevailing wages.
But Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, one of the two Democrats in the coalition, said they are not demanding action on all the reforms before a vote is taken on funding.
He said the coalition is “trying to move this forward and gather information so we can come up with a package that has the buy-in of the public.”
Here is the proposed schedule:
Sept. 18, WSDOT Olympic Region Office in Tacoma
Sept. 24, WSDOT Southwest Region Office in Vancouver
Oct. 1, WSDOT Northwest Region Office in Seattle
Oct. 7, WSDOT Northwest Region Office in Everett (focus on Snohomish County)
Oct. 14, WSDOT North Central Region Office in Wenatchee
Oct. 22, WSDOT Eastern Region Office in Spokane
Oct. 30, WSDOT South Central Region Office meeting in Tri-Cities