Gov. Inslee’s letter to Republicans: Half-hearted diplomacy?

Jay Inslee gives his State of the State address to the Legislature/ Credit: Allyce Andrew

Gov Jay Inslee tried to jump-start talks on a multi-billion-dollar state transportation package this week by sending a letter to the largely-conservative Senate Majority Coalition Caucus on Thursday.

The letter struck a defensive tone, arguing that the Republican caucus has tried to cloud the picture around transportation by focusing on the possible imposition of low-carbon fuel standards; a focus he argued was taken out of context. Instead, Inslee urged that the coalition pass a Senate transportation package to kick-start transportation talks with the Democratically-controlled House, which have been stalled for the last nine months.

Phone calls to the coalition's communications section were not returned Friday.

The letter is Inslee’s second public attempt this session to move legislators forward on a transportation package. He also singled out the 24-Republican, two-Democrat Senate caucus last Tuesday in his State of the State speech, imploring them to pass a package so that the House would have a basis for negotiation. A House version of the transportation package was passed during the 2013 legislative session.

"I ask that the Senate negotiate a package among both caucuses that can garner a majority of votes in your chamber,” Inslee wrote in his Thursday letter. “When you develop such a proposal, I commit to working with you to find the needed votes on a package acceptable to both chambers.”

The Senate transportation leader, Republican Sen. Curtis King, has been negotiating a proposal with his Democratic counterparts. However, no one has publicly confirmed (including King) that a majority of the coalition supports what he is currently proposing. Coalition leaders dodged a question Tuesday on whether they have polled their own caucus on King's position.

Interlaced with the issue is Inslee’s deep concern with reducing carbon emissions in Washington state, which contribute to global warming and ocean acidification. In the last few years, Washington shellfish purveyors have seen a sharp increase in deaths among infant shellfish. A bipartisan panel convened by Inslee to study the issue has grown deeply and likely irreconcilably split on possible solutions.

In the face of the panel split, rumors had emerged that Inslee might try to install a low-carbon fuel standard for vehicles by administrative means; an interest he confirmed in his letter Thursday.

Though he is not considering a carbon fuel tax, Inslee wrote, he does want to consider gradually lowering fuel carbon content through biofuel blends and more electric cars.

Republicans have claimed such a measure would raise gas prices by upward of a dollar a gallon. Last week they introduced a bill that would block Inslee from instituting new standards by administrative action.

Still, he insisted that the measure would not mean an increase in the cost of gas. To the contrary, he wrote, “… studies show that a properly constructed, clean fuel standard could actually save money at the pump.”

“I will ensure this by demanding real cost-containment measures, and a thorough and very public analysis of all costs and benefits associated with any clean fuels proposal before moving forward."

Inslee griped that the low-carbon fuel objections were not brought up in earlier transportation talks he had with Republicans. "To do so now, with such disregard for the facts and at such a critical moment in transportation discussions, causes me great concern," he wrote.

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