A transportation deal considered critical to Cowlitz County is being held up by state budget negotiations, and local legislators are concerned the deal’s chances of passing are sinking fast.
The House and Senate are trying to hammer out a two-year operating budget, but they’re still hung up on how to pay for it.
Legislative leaders say they won’t allow any work on a state transportation spending plan until the budget is finished.
The special legislative session ends June 30, and lawmakers are not meeting this week because visitors headed to the U.S. Open in Tacoma have booked up all of the hotel rooms in the area, leaving many legislators with no place to stay.
This means the Legislature will have about a week left to adopt a budget to avoid a state government shutdown on July 1, the day the next fiscal year starts.
So there may not be any time left to work out a transportation deal, which could help fund $350 million in improvements to the Industrial Way rail and highway corridor through Longview.
“Hearing that we’re not going to move a transportation revenue package through until we get the operating budget issues settled scares me,” said state Rep. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. “We just won’t have the will or the energy left by the time we get through finalizing the budget.”
Indeed, lawmakers now seem far more focused on avoiding a government shutdown than they are about passing a transit plan.
The longer the budget discussions drag on, the more likely the transportation package will be tabled until 2016, said state Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview.
With the threat of a government shutdown looming, the state budget office recently asked agencies to help devise a contingency plan for government operations should the Legislature fail to come up with 2015–17 operating budget by the June 30.
Gov. Jay Inslee, according to gubernatorial spokeswoman Jaime Smith, still hopes shutdown plans won’t be necessary.
“There is no imminent announcement going out, and it’s certainly still our belief that legislators can and will reach agreement,” Smith said Monday.
But the two houses still are deadlocked, with the Senate opposed to House plan to raise some taxes.
Progress in budget negotiations, if any, is “nothing that I would write home about, or in the newspaper,” Takko said.
There are still plenty of issues for the two sides to work out, such as financing education mandates and state employee raises.
“If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be frustrating,” Hatfield said.
Shari Phiel covers courts, county government, environment and transportation. Contact her at 360-577-2510 or email@example.com.