UPDATE: Gregoire's budget plan skips new funding for CRC

By Eric Florip and Stevie Mathieu

Published:

Updated: December 18, 2012, 8:03 PM

 

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Gov. Chris Gregoire largely passed over the Columbia River Crossing in her recommended budget released Tuesday, identifying no new state funding for the project.

Instead, the outgoing governor will leave it up to state lawmakers to find Washington’s contribution to the planned Interstate 5 Bridge replacement, said spokesman Jason Kelly.

“The governor believes this is a priority project, but there continues to be a lack of consensus around transportation funding and what a comprehensive statewide revenue package should look like,” Kelly wrote in an email.

Washington, like Oregon, must find a way to pay a state share to hold up its end of the CRC finance plan. And lawmakers in both states will have to act soon for the CRC to stay on its current schedule, starting construction in late 2014.

Washington and Oregon are expected to jointly pony up roughly a third of the project’s $3.5 billion cost, or about $450 million each. The rest would come from tolling revenue and the federal government.

Gregoire’s budget doesn’t finalize any spending for the next two years. The Washington Legislature holds final say over the biennial budget ending in mid-2015, and Gov.-elect Jay Inslee will propose a budget of his own.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber took a decidedly different approach to the CRC in his recommended budget, released late last month. Kitzhaber’s plan sets aside $450 million for his state’s share of the project, putting it first on a list of “key investments.” The CRC was characterized as a major component of Kitzhaber’s economic development agenda.

The CRC received no such treatment in Gregoire’s budget. A two-page summary of her transportation priorities, also released Tuesday, included no mention of the CRC at all. Nor did the CRC make a list of 11 major transportation-related projects and programs her budget would continue. That list did highlight two Seattle megaprojects: the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement, and a new state Highway 520 bridge over Lake Washington.

Still, Gregoire has been a supporter of the CRC, as has Inslee.

On the campaign trail, Inslee said numerous times that he wanted to move the CRC project forward. He also said he hoped to include it in a transportation funding package that would go before voters.

“The new Columbia River Crossing is not just a Southwest Washington imperative; it is a national imperative for the economic well-being of both our state and our country,” Inslee wrote this year in response to The Columbian’s candidate survey. “My goal is to approve a transportation package to fund this and other critical transportation projects within my first term of governor.”

In an interview, state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said Washington fully intends to hold up its end of the bargain on the CRC. Oregon has identified its path forward, she said, and “now it’s Washington’s turn to do the same.”

Both states will have to get lawmakers on board for that funding to fall into place. The CRC, which would also extend light rail into Vancouver and rebuild the freeway on both sides of the Columbia River, still faces plenty of questions as it heads into 2013. The controversial project is likely to emerge as a key issue in upcoming sessions of the Washington and Oregon legislatures.

Paying for education

State Rep.-elect Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said she was happy to see Gregoire’s recommended budget place an emphasis on paying for the state’s education system, but Stonier, an educator in the Evergreen school district, said she wants to see a solution that avoids tax increases.

“I don’t know that (Gregoire will) be able to get the support from the Legislature” for her recommended budget, Stonier said.

Stonier also said she’s going to contact local school districts to see how they would be affected by Gregoire’s proposal to move student transportation spending into the transportation budget, freeing up some money for other education programs.

“The transportation budget for schools is so much of their budget,” Stonier said. “It needs to be addressed in some way.”

Meanwhile, state Rep.-elect Liz Pike, R-Camas, said she thinks Gregoire’s proposed budget is “a good place to start” but, “I’m going to help Inslee keep his promise of no new revenue and no new taxes to balance the 2013-15 budget.”

Pike said she interprets the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision as a directive to both fully fund basic education and to pass “sweeping reforms in our public education system.”

Washington State University, which has a branch campus in Vancouver, praised Gregoire’s budget proposal for maintaining higher education funding after years of cuts. In part, her budget sets aside $11 million for the state’s four-year universities to create so-called STEM programs that promote the high-demand fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

“This is the best budget proposal for WSU in more than four years,” the university’s president, Elson Floyd, said in a statement released Tuesday.


Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.