Transportation bill yet to win over Monroe, Oak Harbor lawmakers

Any day now the state Senate will be voting on a plan to raise the gas tax and car tab fees in order to pay for billions of dollars in transportation projects.

Republicans, who hold the majority in the Senate, are the chief architects of this legislative blueprint for spending $15 billion in the next 16 years on fixing roads, building highways, repairing bridges, running ferries and expanding mass transit in urban and suburban communities.

Yet, for the two Republicans senators whose districts include Island and Snohomish counties, there’s not much in it to celebrate.

Sens. Barbara Bailey, of Oak Harbor, and Kirk Pearson, of Monroe, find tax hikes distasteful. They’re an even harder to pill to swallow in this case because there’s little or no money targeted for their districts.

No new road projects get funded in Bailey’s 10th District, which includes Stanwood, Camano Island and all of Island County. There are no dollars earmarked for a public transit agency, either.

The thin silver lining is inclusion of money for operating the Washington State Ferries, which serves Whidbey Island with two routes, and working on terminals.

The picture isn’t much brighter for Pearson’s 39th district, which includes Arlington, Darrington, Monroe and east Snohomish County and swaths of Skagit and Whatcom counties.

The GOP package contains one line-item for the district: $17 million for unspecified safety projects on Highway 2 between Snohomish and Skykomish. That works out to just more than $1 million a year for one of the deadliest highways in Washington.

Overall, the GOP plan proposes $570 million in spending in Snohomish County. Subtract the Highway 2 expenditure and that leaves a lot of dough for projects in legislative districts in the county led by Democrats.

Pearson and Bailey said they don’t know why their districts got treated this way by their colleagues. But the dearth of dollars does explain why civic leaders from communities they represent didn’t flock to recent hearings in Olympia to praise the Senate majority’s efforts.

“I guess if you’re in Everett or west Snohomish County you’re extremely excited,” Pearson said. “In my district, no.”

Pearson said he hoped to see $35 million in the plan to ease congestion on State Route 531 in Smokey Point. A project endorsed by the city of Arlington would widen the road from two lanes to four lanes between 43rd Avenue NE to 67th Avenue NE.

“I don’t know why it’s not in there,” Pearson said.

Bailey intends to lobby for it, too.

“That is a really important corridor. I’m hopeful we’re going to be able to work something out,” she said.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and the lead author of the package, explained last week that projects were chosen for funding based on criteria. He didn’t elaborate.

He said he knew of his colleagues’ disappointment and would be talking with them.

“We’re going to work on it,” he said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”

At this point, neither Pearson nor Bailey is saying how they’ll vote when the spending plan hits the floor of the Senate. Bailey said she’s waiting to see what happens with reforms before deciding.

“As far as I am concerned all of these reforms are needed before we start talking about the spending,” she said.

As the same time, she’s reaching out to King on where she would like to see money spent. It’s not lost on her that she is part of the Senate majority.

“Nothing is over until it’s over,” she said. “There are some things I am still working on.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos

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