It's an all-politics-are-local scenario.
A legislative listening tour so far has shown overwhelming support for a Washington transportation package, although the details of what people want most vary widely. On the Eastside, there's a big emphasis on Interstate 405 improvements. South of Seattle, there's a push to improve access to the Port of Tacoma along Highway 167. And in eastern Washington, they want to finish making Highway 12 four lanes between Pasco and Walla Walla.
The public feedback was significantly less clear, however, on whether the Legislature should support a gas tax hike to pay for all the construction.
The Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus set up a bipartisan tour of 10 Washington cities through mid-October to get feedback on how to put together a transportation package of projects, revenue sources and reforms. Crosscut attended the first four sessions, in Bellevue, Everett, Wenatchee and Yakima (the Tri-City Herald reported on a Thursday evening session in Pasco.)
Senate and House Republicans and Democrats are split almost totally along party lines in supporting two drastically different approaches on putting together a transportation package. The Democratic-controlled House passed a $10 billion transportation package with 10.5 cents per gallon increase in the gas tax in June. The 23-Republican-two-Democrat Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, with a 25-24 majority, decided to kill that package by refusing to consider it.
One item that died with the transportation bill killed by the majority coalition was language that would allow local transit authorities to levy taxes at current levels for their own operations. Without that language, many transit authorities, including King County's Metro, face cutting routes in 2014 because they cannot raise the money to keep those services.
Republicans opposed the package because of a hardcore stance against any new taxes, and because they opposed replacing the Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland, which was part of the bill.
Later in the summer, the majority coalition unveiled its own proposed transportation package that calls for raising $800 million with budget shifts, little in the way of new construction, and several administrative reforms. Any discussion of raising gas taxes might wait until 2015 or 2016 under the majority coalition's approach.
Gov. Jay Inslee wants to call a special legislative session in November to pass a transportation projects-and-revenue package. The majority coalition set up the listening tour — with legislators from both parties attending — to prepare for the upcoming transportation talks. Senate Transportation Committee co-chairpersons Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, attended all sessions. Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, attended three of the first four. Many other legislators attended sessions in or near their own districts.
In the hearings, people in Bellevue, Everett, Wenatchee and Yakima strongly supported a November legislative session. "Time is of the essence. Our economy depends on it," said Ron Olson, a resident of Snohomish County. At least 725 people attended the first four sessions with 238 speaking to the senators and representatives.
In broad strokes, the feedback so far showed:
- Almost everyone in the crowds wants a transportation package as soon as possible for two overriding reasons.
The first is that numerous cities, counties, business interests and ordinary people wanting better highways and bridges. Most focused on individual projects that would help their own communities.
Speakers said that I-405 is always clogged. Interstate 90 in Snoqualmie Pass, handling 8,000 semi trucks a day, needs upgrades to continue. Benton City needs a roundabout. Yakima has traffic flow problems. Eastern Washingtonians want to finish widening of the semi-clogged State Route 12 between Pasco and Walla Walla to four lanes. State Route 167 needs to be extended to the Port of Tacoma to improve the flow of exported goods and crops out of Washington to the world. Eastside residents want a State Route 520 better suited to deal with their rapidly growing communities.
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