Inslee compromises to get transportation projects deal

Crosscut archive image.

Highway 520 bridge traffic last year, where the state is working on a replacement bridge project

Gov. Jay Inslee dropped his push for a low-carbon fuel standards Sunday morning in order to get a $15 billion, 16-year transportation projects package.

The low-carbon fuel standards have been the big remaining item of dispute between Inslee and the Senate Republicans in getting a transportation package passed this session. The Republicans wanted a so-called “poison pill” in the package that would automatically shift $700 million from transit and multimodal transportation to roads if Inslee installs low-carbon fuel standards.

“The current bill has a poison pill that pits clean air against transit," Inslee said in a press statement explaining his decision. "I oppose that and have worked hard to find a better alternative. But legislators tell me it is essential to passing the $15 billion multi-modal transportation package and authorizing an additional $15 billion for Sound Transit light rail expansion.”

Inslee added, “I will sign the bill even with this provision because of the jobs, safety improvements and traffic relief that the investments would provide. I urge legislators to finish the job and pass this package by Tuesday so I can sign it as soon as possible.”

Senate GOP transportation negotiators Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima and Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said in a press release, "We appreciate the difficult decision the governor has made and applaud him for not allowing a single issue to stand in the way of achieving these important investments in Washington’s transportation future. As work continues to resolve the final details of a new transportation revenue package we have never been more optimistic about its success.”

Legislators had apparently nailed down those final details by mid-afternoon. They were planning to release the details Tuesday, but indicated there would be no big surprises. The Legislature is now in third 30-day extra session, which began Sunday, mostly because it still must pass a main budget for the 2015-2017 biennium that begins Wednesday.

Head House Democrat transportation negotiator Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, also praised Inslee. "Since taking office he has been committed to building a modern transportation system that will create jobs and fight gridlock, and today we are one step closer to that goal. The low carbon fuel standard was one of the few remaining points of contention in negotiations over the transportation revenue package. I remain confident that we can pass such a package before concluding our work this year.”

The package calls for completing work on several major state transportation projects, including completing the state Route 520 overhaul, upgrading I-405, finishing work on state routes 509 and 167, tackling I-5 congestion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and continuing work on a new I-395 corridor through Spokane.

It also gives local governments and transportation authorities more freedom to raise revenue by, for example, authorizing Sound Transit to ask voters for limited property, sales and motor vehicle excise tax hikes to expand light rail. All along, Inslee and the Democrats wanted to give Sound Transit the authority to raise $15 billion, while the GOP wanted to limit that to $11 billion. The final deal is the $15 billion benchmark.

The overall plan for the state also phases in an 11.7-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax on top of the current 37.5-cents-per-gallon tax.

Republicans contended that a low-carbon fuel standards would cause the oil industry to raise gasoline prices, while Inslee and Democrats contended it would help fight pollution and spark new low-carbon industries in Washington.

In February, the Seattle Times published a story that noted that the eight top recipients of oil industry money in the Legislature are members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus of 25 Republicans and one Democrat. The Times listed the eight at Sens. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, Steve O’Ban, R- Tacoma, Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, Fain, Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, and Jan Angel, R- Port Orchard. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Steven, was the highest senator from the minority Democratic caucus on the list.

Meanwhile, the House Democrats never openly tried to force the GOP Senate to consider an Inslee plan to raise money for transportation and schools with a tax on carbon emissions by the state’s top polluters. That plan died behind the scenes due to some complicated inside-the-Capitol-Dome maneuvering that produced mixed stories on what really happened.

The bottom line is that the environment-oriented Inslee’s two top anti-pollution measures — a carbon tax and the fuel standards — have not survived this legislative session.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


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