OLYMPIA — State Sen. Marko Liias was chosen Thursday as the new chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, giving him a central role in deciding how the state spends billions of dollars on transportation each year.
Liias, a Democrat from south Everett, was selected in an internal vote by the Senate Democratic Caucus. As a result of the decision, he is expected to give up his post as the majority party’s floor leader. He fills a vacancy created by the departure of the last chairman, former Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, who became secretary of state.
The transportation chair is a powerful position as the committee oversees state spending on transportation, Washington State Ferries and the Washington State Patrol. As chairman, Liias will decide what bills the committee will consider and vote on in the upcoming 60-day legislative session.
He’ll also work with his Democratic counterpart in the House to craft a supplemental transportation budget that could steer a few additional dollars to road and transit projects in Snohomish County and elsewhere in Washington.
And he’ll be in the center of negotiations between the two chambers and Gov. Jay Inslee on a potential multi-year, multi-billion dollar transportation package. Lawmakers secured pillars of a package in two climate change bills last session, only to see Inslee knock them out with vetoes. Those vetoes could still be challenged in court.
“It is an honor that my colleagues trust me with this responsibility and have selected me for this position,” Liias said in a statement. “As we face dramatic changes to transportation revenue and mobility options, this is our moment to write a visionary, equitable, climate-focused transportation package that invests in our shared priorities while respecting our real and unique local needs.”
Liias, a former Mukilteo City Council member, was appointed to a vacant state House seat in the 21st Legislative District in 2008 and moved to the Senate in 2014. He served as vice chair of the House Transportation Committee and helped negotiate the 2015 transportation revenue package approved by the Legislature.
The 2022 legislative session will begin Jan. 10.