On Monday, Jan. 13 lawmakers picked up where they left off with the opening of the 2014 legislative session. They’re faced with a new order from the state Supreme Court demanding faster compliance with the McCleary ruling to fully fund public schools. Lawmakers will also attempt to pass a transportation package and address climate change. With I-90 tolling still on the table, Islanders should be particularly attuned to Olympia’s happenings.
“[Without] a transportation package, tolling is still in the future,” said Representative Judy Clibborn of Mercer Island, who also serves as Chair of the House Transportation Committee.
Because it’s a mid-biennium year, this legislative session could quit after its alotted 60 days without making adjustments to last year’s biennial operating budget. But Clibborn says there’s still a lot on lawmakers’ plates.
Last Wednesday, WSDOT announced that SR 520 will overrun its budget by $170 million and stalled digging of the deep-bore tunnel furthers the urgency of a transportation package.
“The ($170 million overrun) is larger than the contingency fund,” said Clibborn of the 520 announcement, “which is really disturbing. But it’s fixable.”
There have been 12 closed-door negotiation meetings with transportation leaders on a potential package, but Clibborn says the disagreements are made worse because they’re ideological. In the fall the Senate Majority Coalition proposed a package that would favor an 11.5 cent increase in the gas tax over tolling.
But the proposal also would have taken sales tax associated with state transportation projects from the general fund and used it to fund more projects, or would have done away with sales tax on such projects entirely.
Clibborn points out that the proposal would have taken funding from other priorities like education at a critical time when the state Supreme Court has determined Washington isn’t fulfilling its congressional mandate: “We’re all tied up in one big ball of yarn. It’s not easy.”
“We haven’t been able to find a middle point,” she said. “But [the Senate] has to work on something that brings enough votes on their side that they have a bipartisan package.”
Lawmakers don’t need to pass a transportation package this year but projected cuts to Metro will take effect in 2014 with serious repercussions for Mercer Island. In November Metro announced that it would eliminate Routes 202, 201, 203 and 205 because of high operating costs and low ridership.
Several drafted packages would have given King and Snohomish Counties the ability to fund transit by levying local taxes. But Clibborn said she didn’t think she could get the local option for Metro funding through the Senate on its own, without slipping it into a broader transportation package. Meanwhile, services like Washington state ferries, already in need of repair, will further degrade.
“Transit and ferries will probably see a decrease in service. There’s not enough money and we’re starting to see shortfalls. We’re going to start seeing a lot of [projects] go on hold,” she warned.