One Question for Gov. Jay Inslee
One question about the transportation budget for Governor Jay Inslee.
THIS POST UPDATED at 4:45pm: Correcting what he told me earlier, WSDOT spokesman Lars Erickson now says Seattle residents won't be able to comment on the elements of a statewide transportation package at the Joint Transportation Committee meeting in Seattle on September 11. Seattle residents who want to comment will have to go to Bellevue on September 17.
At a bit of a non-announcement announcement this morning: Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he plans to call a special session of the state legislature in November—but only if senate lawmakers, who refused to vote on a $10.5 billion transportation package passed by the house earlier this year, can agree on a bipartisan proposal.
Although Inslee declared himself "an optimist on this subject" and said that "all [the MCC's] sins will be forgiven" if they agree to a transportation package, his announcement leaves the state pretty much where it was in June, when the Republican-dominated senate Majority Coalition Caucus rejected the transportation package in part because it included funding for the Columbia River Crossing, which conservative senators oppose because it includes light rail.
The one potentially significant piece news from this morning's conference: Inslee said he would consider a statewide transportation package that doesn't include funding for the CRC. But he added that the CRC "was not the reason the transportation package did not pass. In the last six months, at no time did the Majority Coalition say, 'Look, we’ll do a transportation package as long as it doesn't cross the Columbia River.'"
Whether Inslee's optimism is justified will be clearer later this month, when the MCC will hold a series of public meetings in seven cities across the state—ostensibly to find out what state residents want to see in a transportation package.
Which brings us to our One Question.
As we noted in Fizz this morning, state Sen. Curtis King (R-14, Yakima) asked the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to schedule one of those meetings in Seattle, where King County Metro (which serves Seattle and its suburbs) is facing the possibility of 17 percent service cuts. However, WSDOT declined to do so, putting the meeting in Bellevue instead.
This morning, we asked Inslee why WSDOT didn't want to hold a meeting in the state's largest city—a city that drives a county economy that contributes more in transportation tax revenues ($8.3 billion of $25.5 billion, or a third of the state transportation budget) to the rest of the state than it gets back in service. Put another way, that's 95 cents on the dollar.
Despite that, the proposed transportation package includes few projects in Seattle:
Inslee said he wasn't aware that WSDOT had moved the meeting, and said, "Everywhere in the state of Washington has some transportation need. People used to think of Metro and the bus service as just important in downtown Seattle, but it’s just as important in Redmond and Bellevue."
After talking about the need for freight mobility across the state, Inslee added, "Anywhere there's going to be a meeting, it’s going to be useful. It's nothing against the town that owns the Space Needle and two incredible football teams, but anywhere you have a meeting, it’s a good thing."
We asked WSDOT communications director Lars Erickson why WSDOT moved the meeting. Erickson chalked the change up to logistics, saying WSDOT had to find times and locations at its regional offices that worked for both of the senate transportation co-chairs—King and Sen. Tracey Eide (D-30, Federal Way).
"There were a limited number of stops and dates available, and since there’s a Joint Transportation Committee meeting in Seattle on September 11, there’s an opportunity in Seattle for the JTC to hear public comments and discussion about [Seattle residents' transportation priorities," Erickson said.
The Bellevue meeting is on September 17 at Stevenson Elementary School, 14220 NE 8th St., from 6 to 9pm.