Work ahead yet for legislators

Nobody said the road to compromise was going to be straight and smooth.

The state Senate on Monday indeed passed a $15 billion transportation package that required compromise and some discomfort for both parties in voting for things they normally wouldn’t support. For Republicans that meant a nearly 12-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase, phased in between this summer and 2016. For Democrats, it meant allowing some labor and sales tax reforms, as well as letting stand for now what some consider a “poison pill.”

Unless the state Department of Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee — and any governors following him during the next 16 years — agree not to pursue a low-carbon fuel standard that would require refineries to reduce the carbon emitted by their fuels, the legislation would strip millions in the transportation package from public transit and multi-modal projects and transfer it strictly to highway projects.

Senate Bill 5987 passed, 27-22, supported by three of the county’s delegation but opposed by four. The seven were at least bipartisan in their opposition or support.

What passed out of the Senate contains much that is worthy of support and crucial to our economy, including $570 million worth of projects for Snohomish County. Republicans in the Senate, specifically Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, backed the addition of much of that $570 million when Gov. Inslee’s transportation budget outlined only $82 million. We’ve made the point repeatedly how important this investment in Snohomish County’s transportation infrastructure is, not just for the county and its commuting residents, but for the state as a whole because of what it means for our manufacturing and aerospace industries.

But despite the compromises it contains, more give and take will be necessary, including some attention to that “poison pill.”

The low-carbon fuel standard and the governor’s proposal for a carbon tax are relatively new ideas and will likely require more investigation and discussion before they can gain broader support. But the Senate bill’s 16-year threat to strip funding for public transit projects, which are key to moving people to and from jobs efficiently and cleanly, is heavy handed and short-sighted.

The cost of a low-carbon fuel standard would certainly make its way down to the pump, but there’s debate about what that cost would be. The high-end estimate is 20 cents a gallon, although the state Office of Financial Management estimates the cost at 10 cents a gallon by 2026. But much of that cost could depend on technological advancements in reformulating fuels, and 16 years is a long time to ignore advancements in technology.

The House now has the opportunity to find further compromises in the transportation package. One compromise ought to remove the threat to funding for public transit projects in exchange for a reasonable moratorium on the low-carbon fuel standard while its costs and benefits are studied and gain greater acceptance.

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