Wasn't special session to be about transportation?
In our opinion
According to news reports, the recently concluded Washington Legislature’s special session was called to address a $10 billion transportation package and “other legislation” that would keep production of Boeing’s new 777X project in the state.
Apparently that “other legislation” was more important.
Legislators took just three days to pass a package extending aerospace industry tax breaks to the year 2040 that will be worth over $8 billion to Boeing. Those breaks could be canceled if the aerospace giant moves construction of the plane, any of its derivatives, or a significant part of manufacturing to another state.
The Legislature also passed a package of training programs for aerospace workers, along with streamlined permitting processes for aerospace facilities, which brings $8 million and adds 1,000 more students to training programs at Spokane Community College and other statewide technical institutions.
Meanwhile the transportation package, which we’re told legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee are making progress on, slipped quietly off the table as folks left Olympia for home. Inslee did say he could call another special session this month to address its passage.
That’s a hopeful sign, but we can’t help but wonder if Eastside – east of the mountains that is – legislators didn’t miss a golden opportunity to extract more for local projects, as well as getting some added, with their tax votes, which were nearly unanimous in both chambers. Or at the very least, find a way to use their votes to bring that needed transportation package to the table for discussion.
For starters, it would be great if the state would allocate the rest of the money needed to finish Spokane’s US 395 North-South Corridor. While that could be around $1.3 billion, according to information from the Spokane Regional Transportation Commission’s Horizon 2040 report, at least it would get the project off the table and completed before earlier portions start needing repairs.
If not that project, perhaps more funding for the Interstate 90/SR 902/Medical Lake interchange could be allocated. Anyone who uses this interchange, especially at peak hours during the day, knows the traffic congestion created by development in the area.
And of course there’s Cheney’s pet project, the widening of SR 904, which is becoming more and more obviously needed with each traffic accident. It’s not an attractive project with a high-degree of complexity, mainly just dirt, asphalt, painting and lighting, but it would certainly create a safer, more efficient highway to a growing community. Just getting it onto the Department of Transportation’s pre-design list would show progress.
We realize these projects are on this side of the state, and that Boeing, the state’s largest employer, is mainly Puget Sound centric. We also understand the Puget Sound region is the engine that drives this state’s economy.
But we also have aerospace and manufacturing over here, and focusing on transportation improvements on this side of the mountains could make this region more of a player in that arena. It would also benefit the agricultural industry, itself very important to Washington’s economy, and make this area more attractive to manufacturers, including those who would be making parts for the 777X, to locate and thereby ease traffic congestion on the West side.
This would also serve to make Eastern Washington more self-supporting when it comes to transportation funding, instead of relying on transferred gas tax revenue from the west.
The recently concluded special session might have provided an opportunity for our legislators to negotiate these projects with their votes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the transportation package was ever on the table. Will we still have this opportunity later on, should another special session be called?