Inslee urges SW Washington to agree on an I-5 Bridge effort

Governor says focus should be on replacing span, not a third crossing

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

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Despite a lukewarm response from across the river after Washington lawmakers approved a measure to address the chronically congested crossing over the Columbia River, Gov. Jay Inslee is hopeful Oregon will eventually get behind a replacement Interstate 5 Bridge project.

“If you have a job in (Oregon), you want those workers to get to Portland, even if they reside here,” Inslee said on Tuesday while speaking to a member of The Columbian’s Editorial Board. “So I would characterize it as both sides should have an equal interest in getting this project done.”

But Inslee cautioned nobody has the desire to repeat the past when Washington walked away from the ill-fated Columbia River Crossing project in 2013 after years of planning.

The task force established by Senate Bill 5806, which passed this legislative session but has yet to be signed by the governor, should demonstrate community consensus, the governor said. And that agreement shouldn’t include the consideration of building a third bridge, which some local legislators, such as Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, have called for, before focusing on the Interstate 5 crossing.

“The Legislature expressed itself when it said to focus on the I-5 Bridge,” Inslee said. “It’s a wise decision, when you have a bridge that was built in 1917 on wooden pilings and it could come down tomorrow with a very small temblor. We cannot accept the destruction of the I-5 corridor. This community knows that better than any community. But the whole state is dependent on having a functional I-5 corridor and that bridge is, I don’t know if functionally obsolete is the right language, but it has to be replaced.”

The Democratic governor said he hopes the Southwest Washington community will “come to grips with its vision statement and reach a strong consensus” on how to move forward building a new bridge. He expressed optimism that former state legislator Republican Don Benton, who played a crucial role in killing the Columbia River Crossing project, is now in Washington, D.C., overseeing the Selective Service.

Inslee added it appears to be a perfect role for Benton “to run an agency with no particular function.”

“That’s in his wheelhouse,” the governor said.

The budget

State lawmakers are in the midst of a 30-day overtime session with the hopes of solving the state’s school underfunding crisis.

How’s it going?

Inslee was blunt.

“The Legislature has a lot of work to do,” he said.

The Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary case that Washington was failing to adequately fund the state’s public schools, which violates its constitutional duty.

The Legislature failed to reach an agreement in the regular session and is now locked in behind-closed-doors budget and McCleary negotiations.

The governor criticized the Republicans’ proposal as a “disguised tax-cut budget masquerading as an education budget.”

“It raises taxes, but instead of putting the $5.7 billion into schools it raises about $5.7 billion of property taxes … to give tax cuts to the favored Washingtonians … which are the ones that live in their district, while giving a tax increase to the other 40 percent and not financing schools,” Inslee said.

The GOP-controlled Senate has proposed a “levy swap” to diminish an overreliance on local levies in some school districts. By setting a state standard around how much property tax funds could be funneled into local school districts, their proposal would increase property taxes in some areas, such as Seattle, while lowering it in less affluent areas, including rural parts of the state.

Both the governor and House Democrats have called for raising taxes. The governor has called for taxing carbon emissions and he’s joined other Democrats to call for taxing capital gains while cutting property taxes.

Inslee said he will eventually play a role in the negotiations.

“But the Legislature needs to produce,” he said. “They have to have a will to do that.”

Running for president?

Inslee has received a lot of national media attention for his efforts to fight President Donald Trump’s agenda.

And that has caused some outlets, CNN being the latest, to speculate the governor could have his eye on higher office — the presidency.

Inslee’s initial thought on that?

“Fake news,” Inslee said, with a laugh. “I’m focused on this, it’s a great job.”

Other Vancouver stops

While in Vancouver, Inslee also stopped at Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, held a roundtable discussion with health and nonprofit leaders to discuss funding for the state’s mental health system and stopped for a bill presentation ceremony recognizing a measure sponsored by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.

Cleveland, a Democratic lawmaker representing Vancouver, championed a measure this legislative session to require the state Department of Health and the Health Care Authority, which oversees the Medicaid program, to create and implement an educational campaign about insurance coverage for breast reconstruction and prostheses.

The goal of Senate Bill 5481 is to ensure breast cancer survivors know their reconstruction rights.