In an exchange that played out over email on Thursday, two of three Clark County commissioners shot down a suggestion by 18th District legislators on how the county could legally craft an advisory vote on the Columbia River Crossing.
A few weeks ago, lawmakers from the 17th District asked commissioners to put an advisory vote on the November ballot, and commissioners said they could not legally have an advisory vote on a matter over which they lack the authority to decide.
This time, Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt made it clear they did not even care if what the 18th District lawmakers were suggesting was legal. They went so far as to make fun of the idea and ask if lawmakers, facing the worst state budget crisis in decades, didn’t have better things to do with their time than to send a letter seeking a meaningless vote.
The idea, outlined in a letter signed by Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, and Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, was this: have an advisory vote on “the establishment of a countywide transportation benefit district that could become involved in funding the CRC project.” The letter goes on to suggest that while the lawmakers don’t support any tax that would result from such a district, “or using this mechanism as a means to tax, this vote would provide a completely legal and acceptable mechanism that would extinguish all known objections.”
The commissioners did not receive the letter from the lawmakers.
Instead, since the March 30 letter was sent in the mail to the commissioners and emailed to Vancouver resident Jon Haugen, it was Haugen who emailed the letter to commissioners.
Boldt responded by email to Haugen.
He thanked Haugen for emailing the letter.
“I am sure you must know the I in I-5 stands for interstate, NOT county,” Boldt wrote. He said the state will approve money for the construction of a bridge, not the county.
Boldt, in an interview Thursday, said having an advisory vote on the CRC would be as meaningful as an advisory vote on whether the United States should be at war in Iraq.
He signed his email to Haugen by writing “county,” in his title of county commissioner, in capital letters.
In Orcutt’s response to Boldt, he apologized that the commissioners received the letter secondhand.
Then Orcutt wrote, “Second, be careful, Marc. People are looking to the Commissioners to step up and help defend them. You (the Commissioners) need to find ways to step up. When you do, you will show you are listening to the voters — something they feel has not happened,” Orcutt wrote. “Furthermore, you would also not only give them a chance to vote, you would also give yourself more position to stand up to the CRC and more voice on C-TRAN to slow this (light rail) train down and possibly derail it entirely.”
Stuart responded to Orcutt’s email.
“Thanks for attaching the letter, Ed. I’m sure you understand that when we hear about a letter to us (from a constituent) before actually getting the letter, it makes us question who the intended audience of the letter really is,” Stuart wrote.
“Substantively, let me see if I’m getting this right,” Stuart wrote. “You want us to ask voters to approve another layer of bureaucracy (which you don’t support), to pretend new tax authority would be used (which nobody’s suggested and you also don’t support), in order to ask a question that wouldn’t be based on any real project details and isn’t even the question you want answered? So, how would that show leadership? Don’t you legislators have a huge budget deficit to deal with up there, that would be a better use of YOUR leadership rather than try to create fake votes for our constituents? I’m personally not interested in creating fanciful scenarios and fake votes. We’re focusing OUR leadership on the real issues of trying to save services that are suffering from State and Federal budget cuts and mandates. We would really appreciate your help and leadership on those real issues facing us.”
Stuart ended the email: “Thanks again for the note. Steve.”
Commissioner Tom Mielke said Thursday he would be in favor of an advisory vote.
“I know people are crying to have their voices heard,” Mielke said.
Six months ago, the C-Tran board, which includes all three county commissioners and is chaired by Boldt, voted to put forward two ballot measures in 2011.
One measure would ask voters to bump the sales tax by two-tenths of 1 percentage point to preserve existing bus service, add some new routes and shore up C-Van service for riders with disabilities. The other measure would ask for a one-tenth of 1 percentage point increase to operate the light-rail extension on a new I-5 bridge and build a new bus rapid transit line in dedicated lanes along Fourth Plain Boulevard.
C-Tran officials in March suggested a timeline that would delay the light-rail measure until November 2012.
Officials say that would provide enough time to convene an expert review panel, draw up a finance plan and conduct a formal alternatives analysis for high-capacity transit. A split vote requires C-Tran to conduct the more protracted process under state law.
The C-Tran board will decide the timeline at an April 12 meeting.
Erik Robinson contributed to this story.