October 7, 2019
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State House and Senate leaders challenge Inslee's plan to move transportation dollars

Gov. Jay Inslee is moving money from transportation projects to help salmon recovery, and legislative leaders are speaking out. The governor is taking steps to divert $175 million from ongoing highway projects to remove and replace culverts that impede the ability of salmon to travel up and downstream, Jerry Cornfield of the Everett Herald reports.

The reallocation includes $70 million from the Highway 520 bridge project and $30 million from a second, huge undertaking to widen several miles of I-5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Cornfield writes.

Cornfield explains that those dollars did not get spent in the last budget cycle, aren’t needed in this one and will be available in the 2021-23 budget. Still, lawmakers are taking issue with the move.

“Never before has this tool been used by a Governor to try to increase funding beyond legislatively provided levels established in law, circumventing the Legislature’s authority to write a budget,” wrote the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees in a Sept. 27 letter to Inslee.

At issue is a federal court order to remove hundreds of barriers to salmon by 2030. The cost to do so is an estimated $3.8 billion. Lawmakers included $100 million in the two-year transportation budget, Cornfield explains, but the governor has made it clear that was not enough.

“He ordered the transfer, ticking off Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both chambers,” he wrote.

The letter to Inslee was signed by state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, and Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia.

The governor is not giving ground, Cornfield says.

“I had a plan that would have made progress in the current budget. But these legislators failed to find a way to fund the work that is needed to save salmon, live up to tribal treaty rights and comply with the decision from the nation’s highest court,” Inslee said.

Another transfer is planned in November.

“Lawmakers aren’t sure they can do anything to stop the transfer,” Cornfield writes. “But the 2020 legislative session isn’t far away.”

Contact AWB’s Mike Ennis for more information at MikeE@awb.org or 360.943.1600.

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