The failure of a state transportation package illustrates the limits of ideology. Transportation — like basic education, a primary responsibility of state government — should be a best-politics-is-no-politics issue.
Wednesday night’s joint statement from the bipartisan House and Senate negotiators and Gov. Jay Inslee is depressingly oblique.
“We agree that transportation infrastructure is important to our state, and we remain committed to finding a solution in the regular legislative session that works for everyone,” it reads. “The next step in this process will be to continue this dialogue in the legislative process.”
Lawmakers are adept at continuing dialogues. There were 12 negotiating sessions, and plaudits to the governor and the negotiators for trying to get to yes. The trouble is, you can never get to yes if Senate Republicans can’t produce the votes, an obstacle compounded by the 2014 election cycle.
Points of contention include bike-pedestrian-transit funding as well as appropriate use for the sales tax and the state’s Model Toxic Control Act.
Any package will need to go to voters for their approval. That’s why the Senate Republican blueprint dedicating less than two percent to transit won’t fly. On the Democratic side, a $75 million Metro shortfall could spell a Transportation Benefit District in King County to self-tax and jettison a statewide package altogether.
Republicans always have been reliable, pro-Washington Roundtable advocates for a strong transportation system. Alas, an anti-tax faction that considers transit code for social engineering has dug in its heels. What happened to the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan on the national level has found expression in the Northwest.
Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann distill the challenge in their 2012 book, “It’s Even Worse than it Looks.”
“However awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier,” they write. “Ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
These are not Dan Evans Republicans. Senate Transportation Co-Chairman Curtis King helped sandbag a new Columbia River Crossing because it could accommodate light rail, tossing away $1 billion from the feds.
On Dec. 2, we described the Senate Majority Coalition as a “promising experiment in sensible centrism.” But it looks more like centrism without centrists.
Prove us wrong, get moving and bring out your votes.