Transportation budget passes but no agreement yet on operating and capital budgets

 

While deals on the state’s operating and capital budgets remain elusive, the Legislature has passed the 2017-2019 transportation budget, and on May 16 Gov. Inslee signed it.

The transportation budget provides just over $8.5 billion in appropriation authority and includes the first full biennium of funding for the Connecting Washington program. A few Connecting Washington projects, approved and funded via the 2015 gas tax package, were moved up a bit.

The budget includes $93.9 million in regional mobility grant funding, $32.2 million for rural mobility grants and $40.6 million in special needs funding for transit agencies. 

Other highlights of the budget include the following:

  • Advancement of $60 million for the Alaskan Way tunnel project;
  • Advancement of $36 million for right-of-way purchases for the SR 167/SR 509 Puget Sound Gateway project;
  • Advancement of funding for the I-90/SR 18 Interchange;
  • $300,000 to WSDOT to conduct an analysis of an ultra-high-speed rail alignment between Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, OR;
  • $100,000 for a Joint Transportation Study of the responsibilities of the Washington State Transportation Commission;
  • $500,000 for the Joint Transportation Committee to conduct a study of air cargo movement at Washington airports;
  • Direction to the Transportation Commission to continue to move forward with the road user charge task force and pilot project;
  • An additional $162 million for fish-passage barrier removal over the 16-year plan; and
  • $19.5 million for the cost of operating two new Amtrak Cascades routes from Seattle to Portland.

Meanwhile, there’s still no deal on operating and capital budgets, and it appears another special session of the Legislature will be called. The first special session concludes today (May 23). As budget talks creep along behind the scenes, outside groups are exerting pressure on lawmakers. Democrats are getting pressure from the state teachers’ union, who have been sending unionized teachers down to the Capitol every day of the special session to sort of occupy the Capitol.

On some days the number of teachers has outnumbered the number of state lawmakers. But that’s because most days, only the budget negotiators are at the Capitol.

On the business and Republican side, you’ve got the realtors and other groups running ads in the district of the House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, a Democrat, putting pressure on him to abandon support for the Democrats’ tax package.

Besides writing a balanced two-year state budget, Washington lawmakers this year must decide how to fund a constitutional public education system. The state is currently in contempt of court and accruing a $100,000-per-day fine in the McCleary school funding case.

The court-imposed deadline to fully fund schools is the 2018-19 school year. But in order to meet that deadline, the legislature and governor need to authorize the spending plan this year.

For more information, contact AGC Chief Lobbyist Jerry VanderWood, 360.352.5000.