Friday, September 18, 2020
Sept. 18, 2020

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Senate Democrats release two-year transportation budget

$9.9 billion plan largely mirrors proposal from the House

By , Columbian political reporter

Democrats in the state Senate have released their two-year transportation budget, proposing $9.9 billion in spending on areas that broadly mirror a counterpart proposal in the state House.

The budget, unveiled by the head of the Senate transportation committee Tuesday, includes money to begin electrifying the state’s ferry system, jump-start planning on a replacement for the Interstate 5 Bridge across the Columbia River, and make a start on a multibillion-dollar court order over salmon spawning barriers.

Advancing the process to replace the century-old I-5 Bridge has been a priority of Clark County lawmakers and other community leaders for the current legislative session. The Senate version of the state’s two-year transportation budget includes $8.5 million for an I-5 Bridge replacement project office, slightly less than the $8.7 million in the transportation budget released by House Democrats a day earlier. Both are less than the $17.5 million Gov. Jay Inslee called for in his proposed budget for the project office.

The Senate transportation budget dedicates $62.9 million for projects in Clark County, less than the $65.4 million in the House version. Both versions include funding for projects, such as transit and improvements to major arterials, among others.

Earlier this month, the Senate Transportation Committee passed a package of bills that would generate new revenue using a carbon tax and an increase in the gas tax to fund a series of more ambitious infrastructure projects. At the top of the list was $450 million to replace the I-5 Bridge.

House Democrats have already released a $52.8 billion state operating budget that relies on $1.4 billion in new revenue from a new capital gains tax. The House Transportation Committee hasn’t signaled an interest in pursuing additional taxes to fund infrastructure projects. The package of Senate bills has largely been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The Senate Transportation Committee’s budget comes as part of the larger process of setting the state’s overall spending and fundraising levels, which the Legislature goes through every two years.

Despite broader criticism from Republicans over Democratic spending proposals for the state operating budget, the transportation proposals brought less early debate, with Republicans in both the House and Senate transportation committees calling them reasonable.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.