OLYMPIA — The chief proponent of a major Washington state transportation package said Friday night the bill was on life support and that it was extremely unlikely to pass this year.
Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn said Friday night that she was disappointed the $10 billion package did not have the support needed to get through the Legislature. Clibborn had been working on the issue for some two years but said it became clear over the past week that the Senate was not willing to work with her plan, which would have included a 10 1/2-cent increase in the gas tax.
“It’s time to let go,” said Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. “I think I did everything I could.”
After the governor’s office told her they were still working on the package, Clibborn later backed off that comment, saying she considered the measure on life support but would continue working on it.
Business leaders had supported the package, saying it was necessary because the state’s highways and bridges can’t wait any longer for improvements. Jocelyn McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Association of Washington Business, said the group wasn’t ready to close the door on the bill and was continuing to work with lawmakers in both chambers.
Gov. Jay Inslee had hoped the package would pass through the Senate by Sunday night.
However, Senate Transportation Committee co-Chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, said his caucus has no appetite for the transportation package and he didn’t anticipate a vote this weekend, regardless of the governor’s statement.
“He can hope all he wants,” King said. “There’s lots of reasons why we shouldn’t go this way.”
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler said the House and Senate were just too far apart on what a package should look like. Everyone wants to make improvements in that the transportation system, but lawmakers couldn’t find a joint way forward, he said.
Republican Sen. Joe Fain, meanwhile, said he’d like to see a transportation package pass. He said he is in discussions about it but cautioned that it would be difficult to complete one at this stage and that Clibborn’s proposal would need to go through substantial changes to make it palatable for some Republicans.
The issue has caused angst in the Senate majority caucus. Republican Sen. Pam Roach stormed out of a late-night meeting about the issue Friday after she said some of her colleagues were afraid of being blamed for the package’s failure.
A version of the proposal approved by the state House included $3.2 billion for several state road projects, including State Route 167, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and a replacement bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon.
That Columbia River bridge was widely opposed by Republicans in the state Senate, who said the current proposal for the bridge was too low and should not include light rail transit. They also expressed concern about the costs.
Supporters, meanwhile, said now was the time to approve that bridge. Oregon and Washington are each responsible for $450 million of the replacement span, with the federal government and toll revenue paying the rest. Oregon has already approved its portion, and officials have expressed concern that federal money provided for the project will fall through if Washington state fails to act.
Clibborn said lawmakers could try and return to the issue next year, but she suspects it may have to wait until 2015. In the meantime, she said motorists concerned about traffic and road conditions may want to put pressure on lawmakers and ask for change.
Sen. Tracy Eide, a Democrat from Federal Way who is co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said that she has given her colleagues across the aisle counteroffers but hasn’t received anything in return.
“It’s just obvious, they don’t want to have it,” Eide said. “I’m disappointed right now and I don’t want to say it’s over. I don’t want to say that yet. I’m hoping there’s just a glimmer of hope. Maybe they sleep on it and come back tomorrow morning and we find that happy medium everyone can live with.”