Transportation’s last chance

A transportation-revenue package. In the pre-gridlock era, art-of-the-possible politics produced a mix of roads, transit and, yes, a gas tax for traffic-fatigued Washingtonians to vote yea or nay. Governing, however fleeting, trumped ideology.

In 2013, after a red-eyed session and three (!) special sessions, ideology muscled ahead.

Timing couldn’t be worse. Policymakers are crafting a response to Boeing’s 777X request-for-proposals due in a couple weeks. No progress on a new interchange on Highway 526 at Hardeson Road? We’ve lost that competitive feeling.

Ironically, a transportation-revenue package was a priority of the Boeing special session that actually aligned with the broader public interest. (It’s a tougher go to connect the public-interest dots on the $8.7 billion in Boeing tax breaks.)

The old transpo paradigm involved road-centric Republicans, buoyed by the business community, horse-trading with transit-focused urban Democrats, animated by organized labor. There was chest thumping, but everyone understood that transportation, like basic education, was a core state responsibility.

On Dec. 2, House and Senate negotiators, along with Gov. Jay Inslee, will take another run at it. Failure ain’t an option. “It can be done, if the will is there,” House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn told The Herald. Sticking points include bike-pedestrian-transit funding as well as appropriate use for the sales tax and the state’s Model Toxic Control Act. Proposed reforms, such as design-build, also are in play.

The House exhibited the will, passing a transportation-revenue package earlier this year. It wasn’t theater, as some partisans argue. As Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said, voting was a risk for several vulnerable Democrats, especially those from tax-averse rural districts.

The Senate Majority Caucus Coalition, which conducted a statewide listening tour, needs to produce the requisite votes. The Coalition’s proposal dedicates less than two percent of its package to transit, a preposterously low mix that won’t square with voters. The plan also provoked pushback from King County lawmakers smarting from a $75 million Metro shortfall. A handful advocate a Transportation Benefit District to self-tax and jettison a statewide package altogether.

Before citing Yeats that “the center cannot hold,” hope remains that tomorrow negotiators upend conventional wisdom and govern. Habeas vota (a new Herald phrase.) Bring out the votes. The Senate Majority Coalition, a promising experiment in sensible centrism, remains ideologically unyielding just when to yield is to lead. So, hammer out a deal Monday and have the governor call a special session Dec. 15 (there’s zero time in the truncated regular session.) No more deciding whether to decide. Govern.

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