CRC hits funding snag in Washington state House

Lawmakers reject raising gas taxes to pay for new bridge, other projects; Democrats plan to vote again on bill

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

Updated: June 26, 2013, 6:33 PM

 

How they voted

Here’s how legislators from Clark County voted on the transportation tax bill:

Yes

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver

No

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver

Washington state funding for the Columbia River Crossing project hit a snag Wednesday, when the Democratic-controlled state House rejected a crucial part of a $10 billion transportation package that contains money for the CRC.

House Democrats say they were just one vote shy of the bill’s success, and they could be back on the floor as early as Thursday morning to run the bill again. It’s rare to see a bill fail in the House; usually the lawmakers in power make sure they have enough support for a bill before they bring it up for a vote.

Even so, “we anticipated this might happen, and that we would get close-but-no-cigar on the first try,” state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said after Wednesday’s transportation package vote.

The bill required a simple majority of 50 votes to pass. Forty-eight voted in support of the legislation, 42 voted against it, and seven were excused from voting. State Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, supports the measure but ultimately voted no on Wednesday, Moeller said. Under House rules, that means Liias can bring the vote back for a re-do.

State Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, was one of a few Democrats to vote against the bill, which would increase gas taxes 10.5 cents per gallon, phased in over two years, as well as an increase some vehicle fees. Stonier said Wednesday that her vote against House Bill 1954 was based on a no-tax-increases promise she made to her constituents.

“It’s a hefty gas tax, and I committed to the 17th District that I would not support tax increases,” Stonier said.

When asked about her position on the CRC itself, Stonier wouldn’t say she supports the project, and she wouldn’t say she opposes it. The $3.4 billion project would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River, extend Portland’s light rail system into Vancouver and update nearby freeway interchanges.

“My position on the CRC has been that we absolutely need the jobs that the project would bring,” she said. However, she added: “I share concerns about making sure the businesses up river are mitigated. I share concerns about the cost of light rail on the project. ... I oppose the spending on the project at this point.”

CRC planners say that Washington and Oregon need to commit this year to paying their shares of the project. Earlier this year, Oregon legislators approved their half — $450 million — but that commitment is contingent on Washington legislators following suit this year.

If Washington lawmakers put the CRC decision off until next year, it would unravel the project’s financing plan and set the CRC back at least a decade, project supporters say.

Moeller said Wednesday that there were at least four Republicans who previously said they would support the transportation package but then voted to the contrary. He said he believes Senate Republicans convinced some House Republicans to switch to no votes at the last minute.

“I think they’re scared to death that we’re going to send them this bill. Then they’ll have to do something with it,” Moeller said, adding that some Senate Republicans don’t want to be seen as the ones who killed the transportation package. “I think they would have a lot of explaining to do to their constituents.”

The bill that failed Wednesday is just one part of the transportation package. House Bill 1955 outlines how the new transportation dollars would be spent. It includes $450 million for the CRC.

Moeller said he is optimistic that Democrats can convince one more House member to vote for the package before the legislative session concludes.

The Legislature has already passed a transportation budget to finance previously approved projects. The transportation package considered Wednesday would raise money to cover even more of the state’s transportation needs. It puts roughly $3.3 billion into a few big-ticket projects, more than $500 million into public transportation, and more than $1 billion into maintaining the state’s highways and bridges.

The Legislature is in its second special session and continues to grapple over a state operating budget. Additionally, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said he isn’t ruling out calling another special session to pass the transportation package.

Anti-CRC amendments failed

On Tuesday, several legislators representing Clark County attempted to amend the transportation package to alter the CRC. Those amendments failed.

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, put forward an amendment that would have required CRC planners to raise the height of the new bridge to accommodate riverside businesses located upstream of the I-5 Bridge. The CRC is working on mitigation deals with businesses that say the CRC’s 116-foot bridge height would block some of their largest river shipments.

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, proposed an amendment that would keep state money from going toward the project unless the CRC’s final design excludes light rail. Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, attempted to add a referendum clause to the transportation package, which would allow Washington voters to make the final decision on the package.

“They deserve to have a vote on this,” Orcutt said Tuesday. “Let’s give them the chance to make the decision.”

If the transportation package passes in the House, it could have an even tougher time in the Senate. Leaders in the Senate majority caucus, which is made up of 23 Republicans and 2 conservative Democrats, have said they oppose a package that includes money for the CRC.

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