UPDATE: Inslee's spokeswoman Jaime Smith contacted us to clarify, saying after she thought more about the question, she believed that if a deal is reached on the budget before the transportation budget (which isn't the traditional way it's done) Gov. Inslee would expect the legislators to try and reach a deal on transporation next. However, her original point stands: The budget deal is not contingent on a transportation deal.
All year long, Gov. Jay Inslee has stressed that a transportation funding package is key to the state's budget and his economic program.
During his inaugural speech:
To honestly address our infrastructure, we have to recognize that creativity is as important as concrete. I want us to turn our innovative spirit toward crafting a transportation package that includes roads, trains, light rail, buses, bike routes and other modes of transportation. We need ways to free capacity for freight and commerce, and rethink how we do the business of transportation in our state and how we use our transportation infrastructure.
Following up in February, after house transportation chair Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-41, Mercer Island) announced her transportation plan:
I thank Representative Clibborn for her leadership on this and am glad to begin a robust conversation about how to move forward in building a transportation system for the 21st century. This is an issue vital to the environmental and economic health of Washington State.
We clearly need to address the growing maintenance and preservation needs in our current infrastructure, the big-ticket needs to improve freight mobility across our state, and the unmet needs for sustainable transportation options such as pedestrian and bicycle improvements.
We can't afford to not take action and this is a job I expect the Legislature to accomplish. I'll be working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to craft a package that they can send to my desk for approval.
After the I-5 bridge collapse in late May:
I do hope that this incident will help us all focus our bipartisan effort to find a solution to our transportation needs.
We just lack the resources to do the work that’s necessary on our bridges,” he said. “This is a decision the people of Washington need to make, and I hope we make this soon to be able to have the resources to have safe bridges.
And announcing the second special session earlier this week, Gov. Inslee was still prioritizing transportation along with the budget:
I had fervently hoped that by today we would have a budget ... and that we would have a transportation plan that would put thousands of Washingtonians to work and help
Currently, two $8.4 billion transportation packages—a Democratic plan and an alternative Republican plan (both relying on gas taxes)—are on the table.
However, the plans are radically different (check out our compare and contrast here), but, for example, the Republican plan doesn't put any money toward the Columbia River Crossing project while the Democratic one earmarks $450 million, and a deal seems like a long shot.
With Inslee accusing the Republicans of putting policy bills on the table instead of focusing on the budget—even though the GOP, like Inslee on transportation, says their policy bills (including a six percent cap on non-education spending) are inextricably tied to the budget—we wondered if he was giving up on a transportation package this session.
Today's PubliCola One Question is for Gov. Inslee. Is he willing to go home without a transportation package?
His spokeswoman Jaime Smith fielded our question.
Here's what she said.
Gov. Inslee has said if folks come together and make an agreement on these bills, that’s fine, but making the budget conditional on those things happening is just taking away our focus on the one thing we have to get done, which is passing the budget.
PubliCola: So to be clear, if you pass a budget agreement and there is no transportation agreement, would he be willing to say, "session over"?
You know, I think so. I don’t think we’ve actually gone through the scenario of well, what happens now, but I think once we pass the budget, we’re done. The governor is not willing to put conditions on budget votes at this point. It’s the one thing that has to get done, and we can’t let these other things distract us from that and they certainly can’t be conditions for a compromise.
People are still having conversations, and the governor is encouraging that because it’s a high priority, but it’s not something he’s saying that’s like “unless the legislature approves this transportation package I will not approve the budget.”
He’s not making it a condition. It’s a completely separate effort.