Humility is an absent virtue in politics. Last week, the state Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus (Republicans and two crossover Democrats) expressed a willingness to revisit a state transportation package. Bravo to them — for listening to traffic-addled constituents, to Boeing, to editorial boards and to the business community. Humility is a quality of leadership that merits a hat tip, especially when it serves the public interest.
On Thursday, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, a transportation committee co-chair, sent a letter to state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, to announce a series of listening sessions to gauge region-specific concerns. The overarching mission is to “wipe the slate clean, build on the work already done, and move forward with a transportation package,” King writes. He trots out the majority’s reasons for punting, including media reports of WSDOT problems, purported public opposition, and confusion over the scope and cost of various projects. He also throws stones at Gov. Jay Inslee for not considering alternative transit options for the Columbia River crossing. Including light rail as part of the crossing package, “coupled with the threat to veto, provided the death blow to the entire package.” Well, humility wrapped in political self-justification inside an enigma. Partisan rhetoric notwithstanding, Republicans are taking a meaningful step forward.
“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. “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 DOT and the public at these meetings.”
Some reforms merit consideration. The state auditor’s recommendation to reform the ferry capital program, for example, and the use of a design-build purchasing process for new auto vessels, have appeal. But no package can be held hostage to a partisan wish list and deal killers such as “an open dialogue on prevailing wage.” Most assume these throwaways were inserted to assuage red-meat caucus members. But keep-em-happy politics can’t be allowed to sidetrack the package goal.
The key with a listening session is to do just that. In King’s original package, there was zero for Snohomish County except for the Highway 9/Snohomish Bridge replacement. When the traveling politicos ride into Everett Oct. 7, residents can voice the need to complete the 156th Street interchange, address Highway 531 congestion, and deal with rail-grade separations in Edmonds and Marysville.
Listening followed by action. The only requirement is humility and leadership.