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Sunday, June 30, 2013 - Page updated at 04:30 p.m.
State Senate leaders decline $10B transportation plan
By MIKE BAKER and RACHEL LA CORTE
Leaders in the Washington state Senate said Saturday they were rejecting a $10 billion transportation package despite intense lobbying from business groups and Gov. Jay Inslee.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said he and his colleagues were unified in their opposition to the plan this session. They plan to work over the coming months to help develop a proposal that lawmakers could consider next year, Tom said. With the controversy over the transportation package out of the way, lawmakers were expected to adjourn their second overtime session Saturday evening.
"We're going to lead on this issue," said Tom, a Democrat from Medina who leads a majority dominated by Republicans.
Tom said improved infrastructure is important for the state's economic vitality but that lawmakers first need to address policy changes for transportation projects, such as a new approach to the environmental review process. He also said the list of projects funded by the package would need to be focused more on improving congestion.
The failure of the plan came despite pressure from Inslee, who had hoped the bill would be approved this weekend. Business leaders, which have often been aligned with this year's Senate majority, had also asked for the bill, saying transportation improvements were necessary.
Ted Sturdevant, Inslee's executive director for legislative affairs, said he has to "go tell my boss" after talking with Tom about the Senate decision.
"He'll be disappointed," Sturdevant said, but acknowledged "I don't see a path."
The packaged approved by the House would have included a 10 1/2-cent increase in the gas tax in order to pay for a series of large projects, including State Route 167, the North Spokane Corridor, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and a replacement bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon.
That Columbia River bridge was widely opposed by Republicans in the state Senate, who said the current proposal for the bridge was too low and should not include light rail transit. They also expressed concern about the costs.
Supporters said now was the time to approve that bridge. Oregon and Washington are each responsible for $450 million of the replacement span, with the federal government and toll revenue paying the rest. Oregon has already approved its portion, and officials have expressed concern that federal money provided for the project will fall through if Washington state fails to act.
When asked if a package without the Columbia River Crossing was acceptable, Inslee said that the project was "very important to the economics of the state of Washington."
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