By Staff Reporter Colin Campbell
The parking lot of the Bellevue Burgermaster was filled Friday morning with people hungry, not for burgers, but for state transportation funding.
A coalition of local elected officials and businesspeople gathered at the fast food joint near I-520 to again urge the state Senate to pass a $10 billion transportation tax package that would fund local roads, bridges and transit services.
After a drawn-out process, state legislators Thursday reached a tentative $33.6 billion two-year budget to avert a government shutdown. One likely point of argument in the transportation bill will be the inclusion of a light rail in the Columbia River crossing. Senate Republicans oppose funding the light-rail line, which they say is a waste of potential road space.
The theme of the Friday news conference — “moving ahead together” — was clear, and the handful of speakers who took the podium didn’t miss the opportunity to directly compare the state economy to a road, requiring investing and upkeep.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, thanked the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives for approving the package, which includes a 10-cent gas tax increase, a $20 vehicle fee increase and a 1.5 percent MVET renewal fee. He called on the Senate, which has a Republican majority, to do the same, asking them to “join us and get on the bus and pave the way to prosperity.”
Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis cited his credentials as a fiscal conservative and said the bill isn’t so much about spending money as it is about investing it. He said the coalition of groups was encouraging and sending a clear message.
“It is good fiscal sense,” Lewis said. “We need to have the partnership we see here before us. I’ve talked to labor; I’ve talked to businesses; I’ve talked to the cities. Cities from the east side to the west. The farmers in Yakima need this to happen just as much as the people in downtown Seattle.”
“We call on that one more step of bold leadership from our senators to represent us and to move our state forward,” he added.
Bob Donegan, president and CEO of Ivar’s restaurants, put the need in more concrete terms. He said one of his truck drivers used to be able to make three trips to and from the company’s Mukilteo facility in Snohomish County, where its chowder is made, but because of worsening traffic, he now can only make two.
Put simply, Donegan said, “If we want chowder, we have to have a transportation bill.”
Organizers said they chose Burgermaster for the 20-minute event because the backdrop, a loud bridge construction site, perfectly illustrated the importance of transportation investment. Maud Daudon, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, who emcee’d the conference, thanked the various groups represented, as well as the burger restaurant for hosting it.
But one Burgermaster waitress, looking on from inside, wasn’t amused at the choice of location.
“It’s frustrating,” she said, gesturing to the group through one of the restaurant’s windows. “It’s a business, not a banquet hall.”