Afternoon Jolt

In a reverse of the infamous "stick it to Seattle" clause in the state legislation authorizing the waterfront tunnel, the state house passed its $8.4 billion transportation budget this morning with an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pederson (D-43, Capitol Hill) that prevents construction of the western portion of the 520 bridge unless the budget includes money to fully fund it.

Pedersen's Seattle amendment says, in part, that:

the Washington state department of transportation shall not engage in or contract for any construction on any portion of state route number 520 between Interstate 5 and the western landing of the floating bridge until the legislature has authorized the imposition of tolls on the Interstate 90 floating bridge and/or otherfunding sufficient to complete construction of the state route number 520 bridge replacement and HOV program..

This is good news for Seattle, but it also provides a political nudge to the senate to sign off on tolling I-90, a controversial, but likely key, source of funding for the project.

By making the bridge contingent on funding the Seattle side of the project, which is in turn contingnet on tolling, the senate is more inclined to sign off on tolling.

Here's why: The senate, particularly the senate's majority leader, Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), is keen on building 520. By making the bridge contingent on funding Seattle mitigation projects (finishing the west side requires an extra $1 billion), which is likely contingent on tolling, the amendment gives the senate a serious incentive to sign off on tolling.

Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-20, Kalama) voted against the amendment on floor this morning, specifically complaining about the tolling issue. Orcutt worried that helping to fund 520 construction with tolling from I-90—"not the corridor where the revenue is going"—sets a bad precedent. 

Pedersen reports that several members of the Seattle delegation united on the issue and convinced house transportation chair Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-41, Mercer Island) to add the amendment this morning after Pedersen's call for the "protect Seattle" language upended the planned budget vote yesterday. Indeed, house appropriations chair Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina) spoke against the amendment on the floor this morning saying it was unfair to talk about halting the project.

Pedersen's amendment passed 51-44.

An additional Jolt from this morning's transportation budget vote: The house rejected a Republican amendment to take light rail out of the Columbia River Crossing project. Introducing her amendment, Rep. Liz Pike (R-18, Camas) said: "Light rail is not a transportation solution, it's a political ideology."

And a final transportation Jolt: The house Democrats' $8.4 billion transportation funding proposal removes a controversial tax on bike sales (a flat tax of $25 on every bike sale over $500—in the low- to mid-range for a new road bike). However, the transportation funding package (which relies heavily on a stepped increase in the gas tax) also eliminates a proposed increase in the hazardous substance tax, which supports stormwater cleanup and culvert replacements for fish passage. 

Additionally, instead of phasing in a 10-cent gas tax increase in two-cent increments over five years, the new proposal would frontload the 10-cent hike by starting with a five-cent increase, followed by three annual increases of two cents, two cents, and one cent.