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Hidden issues: What's keeping Legislature from budget deal?

Boeing, fish, a bridge to Portland and some esoteric payroll tax for major corporations.
Sen. Rodney Tom talks with reporters about the negotiations to reach a legislative budget deal.

Sen. Rodney Tom talks with reporters about the negotiations to reach a legislative budget deal. Photo: John Stang

Washington's Capitol seen from across Capitol Lake.

Washington's Capitol seen from across Capitol Lake. Photo: Aidan Wakely-Mulroney

At least some of the hidden bargaining chips are becoming visible.

There's a fish study that could delay the Boeing Co.'s need to make expensive pollution fixes. A "go" or "no-go" decision on replacing the Columbia River bridge at Vancouver. Possibly an esoteric payroll tax matter that affects major corporations.

Or maybe the Republican-oriented Washington Senate and the Democratic-controlled House are still split on education and workers compensation reform bills versus closing six tax exemptions to improve Washington's schools. Then again, maybe the two sides are still hashing out how $1 billion should actually be spent to improve the state's schools and meet a state Supreme Court mandate.

Negotiators were not talking specifics Tuesday — saying only that the two sides are very close to an agreement. Actually, everyone has been saying that for several days now.

"Right now, we're down to the details. ... More important than expediency is getting the job done right," said Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle and one of the House's negotiators, used the old dog years comparison, saying that in terms of what gets accomplished, an hour of negotiations now equals one or more days of normal time. "We're making exponential progress in dog hours," said Carlyle, who was "out of metaphors" for describing the talks.

The current (2011-2013) fiscal biennium ends on Sunday. Come Monday morning at least 26,000 state employees face unpaid furloughs if lawmakers don't sign off on a 2013-2015-budget appropriation.

Several aspects of the budget discussions surfaced Tuesday in Olympia. 

The House wants a transportation revenue package that calls for a 6 cents per gallon gas tax hike. The six cent increase to the current 38 cent per gallon tax rate would take effect on Aug 1. Another 4.5 cents per gallon bump would kick in on July 1, 2014. House Republicans made several unsuccessful attempts on Tuesday to remove the Vancouver-Portland Bridge replacement from the transportation package, and also failed to create an easy opening to a fall public referendum to approve the package.

House Democrats stopped short of calling for a vote Tuesday — which they would have won — on the roughly $10 billion transportation revenue package, in order to have a flexible bargaining chip in the deadlocked budget talks with the Senate. House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said that the caucus leaders had delayed the vote and referred questions to them, but they were in talks with the Senate leaders and could not be reached for comment. Clibborn is expecting the Senate to put together a different transportation revenue package, meaning negotiations will have to continue on that matter.

The Vancouver-Portland bridge replacement is vehemently opposed by Republicans in both chambers. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has a 25-24 margin to defeat the $450 million appropriation needed to greenlight that project. A major wrinkle is that the revenue package would also fund a project to extend State Route 167 to the port of Tacoma, which is a big priority of Pierce County's governments and business interests. Three majority coalition members represent Pierce County. That trio — Sens. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, and Steve O'Ban, R-Pierce County — will have to choose between their caucus and their constituents if House Democrats keep the Route 167 and Columbia River bridge projects linked in the revenue bill.

The majority coalition caucus can delay both projects and other transportation work by simply not taking the revenue package to a floor vote — effectively killing the work until at least 2014.

The Senate majority coalition has been lukewarm about passing a transportation revenue package this year. The coalition does not like the gas tax increase. The House package has $450 million earmarked for the Vancouver-Portland bridge, so Oregon and the feds will foot their proposed shares of  the project, which has a $3.5 billion price tag. Tolls will provide up to $1.3 billion of the cost. (The project also includes highway lane expansions, interchange replacements and light rail.) 

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Posted Wed, Jun 26, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

There are a couple corrections to this article:

1. The "Columbia River Bridge at Vancouver' is actually called the 'Columbia River Crossing Project' and is not so much a bridge project as a five mile highway expansion mega project between Vancouver and Portland (in fact, none of the money from the Washington legislature is slated for the bridge component -- the $450 million would all go to rebuilding existing interchanges).

2. "Oregon and the feds will foot the rest of the $3.5 billion price tag". Actually, the FTA is only expected to cover about $850M and Oregon would provide about $450M assuming the Treasurer gives the green light. A huge chunk of the remaining costs would be covered by tolls which would mostly be paid by SW Washington commuters and businesses (they make up most of the traffic).

Another important note is that due to early engineering mistakes, the CRC plans to pay what is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars to manufacturing companies who will lose business due to the project. The CRC isn't disclosing what those costs are, but the CRC plans to come back to both states eventually to ask for the additional money. http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-20804-murmurs_so_what%E2%80%99s_a_few_million_here_and_there.html


Posted Wed, Jun 26, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Regarding Washington interchanges, after the CRC commission released its first bridge design ("star-chitecture" promptly rejected as "Structurally Unsound"), their first cost cutting measure recommended delaying the Marine Drive (Oregon) interchange though most in need of a rebuild. Months later, the CRC commission recommended delaying 3 other interchanges in Washington which hardly need to be rebuilt.

ODOT finished a fine Marine Drive interchange design in 2010 which included their Concept #1 option to access Hayden Island. Concept #1 eliminated all ramps directly at I-5, but Wsdot (CRC leading agency) prefers their original and dangerous spagetti ramp design, probably because Wsdot thugs want to shaft Oregon the same way they're shafting Seattle with their misanthropic Deep Bore Tunnel catastrophe and its related street reconfiguration and seawall projects. Seattle liberals are so thoroughly over-educated, they won't consider constructive criticism.


Posted Wed, Jun 26, 12:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Since its merger with McDonnell Douglas, it is more apt to think of Boeing as an Alien Presence in our midst rather than a locally-rooted company built on the creative work of its engineers. Its spotty environmental record, relentless bullying of legislators hither and yon, internal venality and corruption in lobbying, and open crusade against collective bargaining all testify to its corrosive effects on the northwest and beyond. For how long will Boeing's role as an (inconstant, untruthful) employer be used to paper over its manifest faults? Another way to look at it is: Would you compete to have this company enter your state if it weren't already there? And what further concessions are you willing to make, and shortcomings forgive, to continue the relationship?


Posted Tue, Jul 2, 2:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Boeing has as much loyalty to Washington State as a flea to a dog


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