Washington lawmakers approve transportation budget

Plan includes conditional planning dollars for CRC

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor


Updated: April 28, 2013, 10:31 PM


How they voted

The transportation budge passed Sunday in the House with a vote of 72-25 and in the Senate by a vote of 46-1. Here's how legislators from Clark County voted:

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver: Yes

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver: Yes

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver: No

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver: Yes

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas: No

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center: Yes

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver: Yes

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver: No

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver: Yes

Legislators on Sunday approved a transportation budget providing nearly $82 million for ongoing planning of the Columbia River Crossing project. That money came with some conditions, however, and state lawmakers still haven’t dedicated Washington’s $450 million share needed to build the bridge.

The no-new-taxes transportation budget requires a forensic audit of the $3.4 billion CRC project, which would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge and extend Portland’s light rail line into Vancouver. That audit must “investigate possible misuse of public funds,” according to the language of the bill.

Also, most of the $82 million for CRC planning would be inaccessible until the U.S. Coast Guard approves the project’s permit. If the permit is not approved, then that money must be used toward studying a new bridge design that meets the Coast Guard’s requirements.

Those requirements were amended to the budget by state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

“Not only does this budget take the right approach toward the CRC, it also won’t require an increase in the state gas tax,” Benton said in a statement. “For those two reasons in particular, I was glad to encourage my colleagues to support it.”

“It’s a bare-bones transportation budget. But it keeps us moving forward with the CRC,” state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said Sunday in a statement.

Sunday was the final day of the 2013 regular legislative session, and lawmakers will resume budget negotiations during a special session beginning May 13. CRC supporters, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, say they want legislators to spend part of that special session passing a tax package that invests in replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Updating the state’s infrastructure to improve freight mobility and reduce congestion will increase the state’s economic competitiveness, Inslee said during a press conference Sunday. Lawmakers should approve money for the CRC, because “we cannot afford to lose the I-5 corridor,” he added.

Washington lawmakers have proposed a transportation revenue package that would raise taxes and fees to pay for many of the state’s transportation needs, including that $450 million for the CRC.

“Make no mistake: Our project is still very much in play,” Moeller said. “A substantial, needed Columbia River Crossing investment is very much on the table in the upcoming special legislative session.”

State Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, blasted Benton in a statement on Sunday for his opposition to dedicating that $450 million for the CRC. Oregon and Washington are expected to jointly pay about $900 million toward the project’s construction, and Oregon legislators dedicated their half this year, contingent on Washington state following suit. Federal money and tolling will cover the rest of the project.

“Sen. Benton’s opposition to this project is a mistake, and it is a costly mistake,” Cleveland said. “His willingness to squander $850 million in federal funds and $450 million in state funding from Oregon denies our region and our state the tremendous economic development and prosperity this project would bring. The obstructionism of Sen. Benton and the opposition does not bring us closer to a solution.”

Bill successes

Although the Legislature as a whole hasn’t finished its work, state lawmakers from Clark County saw successes this year with some of the bills they proposed. Many of those bills still require Inslee’s signature before they become law.

Moeller passed his proposal to let the Kiggins Theatre in Vancouver and the Liberty Theatre in Camas serve beer and wine in their auditoriums.

Also passing out of both chambers was Moeller’s bill to suspend licenses for caregivers being investigated for abuse, and his bill to let dental hygienists administer topical pain relief medicine to patients.

Benton saw four of the nearly 60 bills he introduced this session pass successfully out of both chambers. One of those proposals would give credit unions in the state more options, including the ability to merge with other credit unions and to invest in some mutual funds and property. It would also create more regulations for credit unions, based on recommendations from the Northwest Credit Union Association.

Another of Benton’s proposals that advanced out of the Legislature would require political groups to disclose their top five donors if they run a series of ads that cost at least $1,000 total. His other successful pieces of legislation would let motorcycles pass bicyclists in shared bike lanes (other vehicles already are allowed to do so), and would allow law enforcement to move and store tactical explosives.

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, advanced two proposals out of the Legislature, and they have both been signed by Inslee into law. One adds pharmacists to the Legend Drug Act, meaning they can prescribe therapeutic drugs if authorized by a doctor.

The other creates a revenue stream for the state’s prescription monitoring program, which keeps tabs on how often someone fills a prescription. The program’s funding was uncertain, but Harris’ bill pays for the program through the Medicaid fraud penalty account.

On Sunday, the Legislature approved a bill by state Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, that would add certain political races to the primary election ballot. When a legislator leaves office early, and it prompts an election in an odd-numbered year, those running to fill the vacancy must appear on the primary ballot, even if there are two people or fewer running, according to her bill.

Another bill by Wylie, which would help new development around the downtown Vancouver Community Library, did not advance out of the Legislature, but Wylie said she hopes it moves forward during the special session. That bill allows Library Square developers, who were hit hard by the recession, to start construction later on the project without losing state stimulus money.

If the developers don’t get state money, they are considering a scaled-back development project that no longer includes a parking garage with about 200 free parking spaces for library patrons. The library at C Street and East Evergreen Boulevard has a small lot with 64 spaces, and there are 36 free, two-hour diagonal slots on West Reserve Street, as well as metered parking on nearby blocks.

The proposal to give Library Square developers more time on the project was co-sponsored by Moeller and Harris. The Senate version of that bill was sponsored by Cleveland and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

“I think everybody’s willing” to advance the bill, Wylie said by phone Sunday. The bill ran into a snag over an amendment added in the Senate “and we ran out of time,” she said.

New in their roles

Rivers, a former House member who embarked on her first Senate term this year, saw success with two of her proposals. One creates an advisory committee to examine a state requirement that local governments purchase eco-friendly vehicles. The bill also states that a gas or diesel vehicle should not be replaced with an eco-friendly one until “the end of its useful life.”

A companion bill to Rivers’ proposal about Christmas tree growers also passed the Legislature. That bill would extend the state’s Christmas tree growers licensing program, which requires that Christmas trees be checked for plant pests and diseases, until 2020.

Newly elected state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, saw three of her bills advance. One allows the state’s Department of Labor and Industries to provide scholarship information to students who had a parent die or sustain an injury on the job. Another bill allows fire departments to create community programs to help people who call 911 for low-priority reasons.

Additionally, Stonier and new state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, advanced a bill requiring parental notification when schools isolate or restrain an uncontrollable student. Several schools throughout Clark County use such isolation methods in an attempt to calm upset students.

Pike also saw the companion bill to one of her proposals make it through the Legislature. That proposal would exempt some businesses from paying a fee toward the state’s E-Cycle electronic recycling program.

Businesses that license names, images or intellectual property to electronics manufacturers wouldn’t have to pay the fee, according to the bill. Instead, the actual manufacturer must pay the disposal fee, as opposed to the company whose logo is on the product.

Meanwhile, newcomer Cleveland, advanced a bill out of the Legislature that allows Washington residents to get their prescriptions filled in other states, such as Oregon, even if those prescriptions were written by physician’s assistants. The bill was signed into law by Inslee earlier this month.

First-term state Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, did not introduce any legislation this year but said he plans to work on drafting some bills between now and next year’s regular session.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com