A SERIES of hearings billed as a way to help state lawmakers gauge citizens’ views on the state of Washington’s roads must be more than just a listening tour.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus’ call for at least seven regional meetings by Oct. 30 is an effort at engagement, but lawmakers’ ultimate goal should be to negotiate a transportation-funding package both sides of the political aisle can support. Last-minute efforts earlier this year to get a measure through the Legislature failed.
A vote this fall is critical because 2014 is an election year. Convincing lawmakers to raise any new taxes then will be tough.
Cue Gov. Jay Inslee, the only leader with the power to convene a special session, perhaps during the Legislature’s annual organizational meeting in November. Inslee has already encouraged the mostly Republican Senate coalition to include Democrats in their latest efforts. He must help them work out a bipartisan deal, too.
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Senate Transportation Committee Co-Chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, says visiting local communities should help determine whether citizens really want to throw extra money at the state Department of Transportation. This is also everyone’s chance to weigh in on controversial ideas like raising gas taxes and using portions of that money to rebuild the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River that connects Portland and Vancouver.
Though King belongs to a faction of lawmakers who favor a slow approach — think reforms before funding — others are rightly concerned about the urgency of work left undone. Among important changes to consider are project-management and permitting reforms and opening a dialogue about prevailing wages and apprenticeships.
House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, reminds that a fragile coalition of stakeholders from the business, labor and environmental sectors have united. They agreed to support a pragmatic funding package that mixes reforms and revenue options, as well as an important bonding measure.
Another key provision held hostage is authority for city and county governments to ask voters to approve extra taxes to preserve transit routes and repair local roads.
A statewide listening tour is a safe political route. Lawmakers must know when to change lanes, though. A mix of reforms and investments in transportation infrastructure now will create jobs and move people, goods and services safely throughout Washington.