Citizens speak out on statewide transportation listening tour

Ten public hearings. One clear message: We want a transportation bill!
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Citizens urge lawmakers to get moving on a transportation bill.

Ten public hearings. One clear message: We want a transportation bill!

The people have spoken. Now, what will Olympia do?

The last of 10 public hearings – Tuesday night in Bellingham – focuses on whether and how the Washington Legislature should tackle a transportation package. The ninth hearing took place Monday evening in Seattle. More than a dozen state legislators showed up.

The Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus set up these bipartisan hearings as a prelude to mapping out a state transportation package. But will the legislative Democrats and the majority coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats that controls the Senate, actually hammer out a transportation package?

Gov. Jay Inslee sure hopes so. He wants to call a special session of the legislature next month where lawmakers would debate and hopefully pass a transportation revenue package. The funding from such a package would put numerous construction projects into motion. But none of that happens without a proposal and, as the governor concedes, we’re "certainly not close at the moment."

"If people want to come to the table and make compromises, it'll happen," said majority coalition leader Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina. He declined to speculate on the likelihood of reaching a compromise.

There are two drastically different paths to a transportation package, and Senate and House Republicans and Democrats are split along party lines in their support of each approach. In June, the Democratic-controlled House passed a $10 billion transportation package which includes a 10.5 cents per gallon increase in the gas tax. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, by a 25-24 majority, killed that package by refusing to consider it.

Included in the ill-fated transportation bill was language granting local transit authorities the power to levy taxes, at current levels, to underwrite their own operations. Without that taxing power, many transit authorities, including King County's Metro, will be forced to cut routes in 2014, because they can’t raise the money to pay for those services.

Republicans opposed the package on the basis of their hardcore no new taxes stance, and their opposition to replacing the Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland, which was also part of the transportation bill. (That bridge replacement proposal died for various reasons, though supporters are trying to revive it.)

Later in the summer, the Senate majority coalition unveiled its own transportation package. The Senate version calls for raising $800 million with budget shifts, a few administrative reforms and little in the way of new construction. Under the majority coalition's approach, any discussion of gas tax hikes would wait until 2015 or 2016.

At Monday's hearing, Katie Wilson of the King County Transit Riders Union dismissed the listening tour as “a sham and a farce.” The majority coalition, she contended, was “just using this listening tour to support a transportation package that aligns with their agenda."

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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8