Failure by the state House to pass a $10 billion transportation funding package Thursday narrows the room to maneuver on this bill to a window as tight as the overhead clearance on the collapsed Skagit River bridge.
Only one Republican – Rep. Hans Zeigler of Puyallup – joined the Democratic majority in support. Six Democrats voted against, including – surprisingly – capital budget committee Chair Hans Dunshee and Majority Whip Kevin Van De Wege. That guaranteed the proposal’s failure to reach the mandatory 50 votes (The vote count was 48-42). A seventh Democrat, Rep. Marco Liias, a champion of the package, voted no for procedural reasons, in order to bring the bill back for a new vote on Thursday.
The transportation package, written by Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, is funded in part by a 10.5 cent-per-gallon boost in the gas tax. It has a business-labor-environment-bike coalition behind it, because transportation needs are not solving themselves. But leaders in the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition in the Senate have quietly lobbied the House to reject the passage, so they won’t have to take a vote. Publicola reports that Sen. Steve Litzow of Mercer Island leaned on Rep. Maureen Walsh to switch from a yes to no vote (she did).
Walsh says Sen. Litzow told her “he thinks it’s dead” in the senate,” adding: “Mo, why would you do that [vote for it]? I don’t care if you’re the 55th vote or the 54th vote, but don’t be the 50th vote.”
Listening to debate on the House floor Thursday, Republicans gave a litany of reasons to dislike this package. Projects cost too much. The Interstate 5 Columbia River Bridge proposal was wrongly designed. Bonding costs were too high.
Those are arguments to be made earlier in the session. Now, five days before a partial shutdown of state government, it’s time for a vote out of the House and into the Senate.
The Seattle Times has editorialized in favor of that at least three times in the past two months – here, here, here. The News Tribune of Tacoma did so this afternoon, demanding “No Excuses.” The Herald of Everett and Spokesman-Review of Spokane also editorialized in favor.
If the Majority Coalition in the Senate scuttles this package because of internal strife between its anti-tax purists and the King County moderates who birthed it, that is a darn good reason to question its ability to provide strong, forward-thinking leadership.