Inslee to area lawmakers: Step up for transportation package

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee isn’t backing away from his decision to fund just two new projects in Snohomish County over the next 12 years in his statewide transportation package.

And he’s not backing away from comments made this week to civic leaders in Arlington, where he said that only a third of the county’s delegation of state lawmakers have stepped up to the plate to help pass a package.

A spokesman said Friday that there is no nexus between the perceived lack of political support and the number of county projects included in the governor’s $12.2 billion proposal.

The Herald got it wrong with a story implying the governor made such a link in his remarks in Arlington, communications director David Postman wrote in an email response to questions.

“The Everett Herald is terribly confused on this point,” the statement read. “The governor said in Arlington what he has been saying all around the state for two years; lawmakers need to do more to pass a transportation package. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the list of projects in his package.”

Inslee has put forth a plan to invest $12.2 billion in state transportation over the next 12 years. Money would be spent fixing bridges, building roads, constructing ferries and expanding bus service.

It would complete a new Highway 520 floating bridge between Seattle and the Eastside suburbs and a new Mukilteo ferry terminal. It also opens the door for Sound Transit and Community Transit to seek funding for light rail and expanded bus service in Snohomish County.

It earmarks $82.8 million for four projects in Snohomish County. More than half, $45.4 million, is for a new interchange on Highway 526 at Hardeson Road in Everett to serve the Boeing Co. and other aerospace firms.

Lawmakers and community leaders hoped for much more. They’ve been pushing a list of 23 projects for two years.

The governor’s office said the chosen projects directly support Boeing’s 777X program. Meanwhile, the package creates a pool of $650 million that can be used to pay for other projects in Snohomish County and the rest of the state.

“The governor’s proposal doesn’t presume that projects and priorities that were important to legislators and stakeholders two years ago are still what’s important to folks today,” Postman wrote. “Everyone understands that there will be more for Snohomish County.”

On Wednesday, the governor hosted a roundtable in Arlington which his office billed as a chance to “discuss the importance of passing a transportation package and in particular investing in improvements to SR 531.”

As he’s done before, Inslee criticized the Legislature for its inability to approve something. And, as he usually does, he said the Republican majority in the Senate needs to act first this year if there is to be success.

In the meeting, the governor stressed the importance of community leaders urging lawmakers in both parties, in both chambers, to vocalize support for action. Public statements, he said, will create the momentum necessary to pass a package.

Inslee got specific about his frustration with the lack of public support he’s hearing from the county’s legislative delegation and urged those attending to get involved.

“Now let me explain the difficulty we have that local leaders have to be aware of,” he said. “There are 21 legislators from Snohomish County. That is the available pool to advance the interests of Snohomish County. Fully two-thirds of them have not put their shoulder to wheel on this.”

But Inslee’s assertion is based on outdated and incomplete information. He is drawing on the tally of the 2013 vote on a House package in which seven lawmakers from the county who are still serving voted for the bill.

The governor’s calculation excluded senators and doesn’t take into account new members of the delegation, nearly all of whom are likely to vote for a package.

The Herald reached out to the 21 lawmakers to assess where each stands on the subject. They were not asked to commit to any list of projects or revenue package — only whether they support getting the Legislature to act this session.

Of those, 13 could be deemed as strongly supportive based on interviews, emails, public statements or sponsorship of transportation budget bills. Another two conditioned their support on the specifics of how the money is raised and spent.

Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, is a strong supporter.

“It’s critical for Snohomish County — and for Washington — that we pass a transportation package,” he said. “In general, the choice is to do nothing or do something, and I think the second option sounds better.”

Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, was the only Republican in the delegation willing to broach the possibility of support.

“I would entertain a ‘yes’ vote with the right package,” she said. “Having some of the reforms will make it an even better package.”

Five Republican lawmakers said they are no votes but are open to changing their minds if the right marriage of reforms, projects and revenue comes together.

A sixth, Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe, seems a certain “no” vote. She opposes any new tax or increase in existing tax, which pretty much precludes voting for raising new revenue.

Postman declined to say if the governor knowingly used outdated information and, if so, why?

Several lawmakers were frustrated by the governor’s comments in Arlington because members of the delegation have been deeply involved in negotiations on a package in both chambers since 2013.

Inslee and members of his administration spent time Thursday and Friday trying to soothed lawmakers’ bruised feelings.

“I expressed my disappointment with his remarks,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-south Everett, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee and a sponsor of the bill to pay for the governor’s package.

He described the governor as apologetic and said Inslee admitted he could have been more articulate. The governor also said his statements in Arlington were mischaracterized, Liias said.

Postman declined to say whom the governor contacted or what they were told.

“The governor appreciates the leadership of many Snohomish County legislators, who are working to develop a package,” he wrote. “He remains optimistic that with collaboration on both sides of the aisle and serious purpose, we can get these critical investments across the finish line in 2015.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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