What does conservative state senator Doug Ericksen (R-42 Ferndale) want?
I ask because Ericksen increased the value of his vote this week by playing coy. The roll call on last week's 15-member transportation committee vote was published yesterday, and it reveals that Senator Ericksen did not vote.
The Republicans carried the day 10-4 in committee. But: with their slim 26-23 majority on the floor, and with another Republican on the committee, conservative senator Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver) voting no (he says key Clark county projects like the fair ground interchange are missing), and with pressure mounting on Democrats to amend the package (here's the catalog of things they don't like including a provision that wipes out the governor's call for low-carbon fuel standards), the Republicans may end up needing Senator Ericksen on board in order to pass the package in the end.
Three Democrats did vote for it in committee to move the talks forward, but senate majority leader Sharon Nelson (D-34, West Seattle) has made it clear that the package needs to change to the Democrats' liking. Referring to some of the Democratic caucus's biggest gripes like the fact that the current package uses about $1 billion from general fund sales tax revenue on transportation projects, Senator Nelson said:
“The Senate Republicans insisted today on transferring a billion dollars from education to asphalt despite our objections. We all agree that transportation improvements are critical to every corner of our state, but this is an issue that can be solved without sacrificing our state’s values. We look forward to working with Republicans to produce a package which the majority of Democrats can support."
I asked Senator Ericksen this afternoon, why he didn't vote on the package and he certainly sounded like a no vote. He told me he was "very concerned about many parts of the package" calling it "pretty light on reforms."
Referring to the 2003 and 2005 cumulative 14.5 cent gas tax increase, he said: "I think many people would argue that we didn't get the best bang for our buck out of that spending frenzy we were on."
So, why didn't he vote no on the package? He told me: "All a bill needs is enough signatures to get out of committee. So, I don't think voting no would have sent the message I wanted to send in terms of reforms. I wanted to keep the doors open in being able to get to a point where we had the needed reforms to build roads. There's multiple ways to do it. It [his abstention] is not hiding from it."
So, as things stand now, he's voting no if it comes to the floor?
"That's a hypothetical. It's only day 45 of the session. We have time to work on it. But my view is if we are going to ask the people for these types of tax increases, we have to have our house in order so that we're actually going to get projects built in a cost-competitive fashion."
While many of the Republicans' high-profile reforms—getting rid of prevailing wage standards on transportation projects, permitting reforms, and moving money from the toxics account—passed, Ericksen said he wanted them, particularly reforming the ferry bidding system, to be stronger.