Senate delivers on transportation – can we avoid a political detour in the House?

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

It took three long years, but after bipartisan negotiations, public meetings in 10 cities, extensive study and much debate in Olympia, the state Senate delivered on its promise to reform Washington’s broken transportation system. With a bipartisan vote Monday we passed a statewide transportation package that creates 200,000 jobs, gets our economy moving, fixes our crumbling highways and provides more accountability in the way we manage our transportation dollars.

From Gov. Jay Inslee on down, Democrat leaders have said it’s up to the Senate Majority Coalition to pass a transportation package. Now we’ve done it. So you might think this would launch a season of problem-solving with our Democratic colleagues in the House to craft a final proposal that will restore credibility with the taxpayers.

But we heard something troubling the other day, just before we took our vote. The House Democratic majority leader told reporters at a news conference that his team wants to solve the state’s other big problem first – how to pay for the basic-education enhancements the Supreme Court is demanding in the state’s K-12 schools.

Of course we think education is the state’s top priority – we’ve always said so. But surely the House majority leader understands that education money comes from one budget and transportation money comes from another, and one really has nothing to do with the other.

If we were to take his statement at face value, we would have to point out this plan creates a serious procedural problem. Education is paid for by the general fund; the Legislature typically reaches agreement on the general-fund budget in the final hours of a session – and usually it is the fact that we have reached agreement that signals to the Legislature that it is time to go home. The moment we pass a budget bill – watch out for the stampede to the exit doors. It might be challenging to convince lawmakers to stay at their desks to deal with an entirely separate transportation proposal.

This talk of kids-versus-concrete has the ominous sound of posturing from a team that may not be altogether eager – or prepared — to deal with transportation or finish the people’s business on time.

This isn’t the spirit in which this debate ought to take place. Now that the Senate has done its part, we ought to stop focusing on the usual legislative politics and start thinking about what it will take to win public support. Both sides need to work together.

The vote on the package in the Senate was a promising sign. Some of the bills went through 49-0, and the most controversial measure, the revenue bill, had Democrat and Republican votes. As for what the House majority leader said the other day, I think every member of the Legislature would applaud the sentiment – it would be nice if we could reach agreement quickly on K-12 education. But that might not be so easy, and it makes sense to tackle transportation now while budget-writers continue their work on schools.

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Today marks the launch of Exit 105, the leadership blog of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. As action in the 2015 Legislature moves to the House and Senate floors and decisions become a matter of negotiation and compromise, we hope this blog will express our concerns, say the things that need to be said, and avoid convoluted thinking at times when we all should know better.