Lawmakers Tackle Transportation Challenges
State lawmakers are working through a temporary fix for Washington's transportation network and eyeing a bigger solution for next year's session, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billing said at AWB's Lobby Lunch Thursday.
"Transportation is probably the biggest question mark, the biggest concern, the biggest unknown for this year," he told employers and the current AgForestry Leadership class at the AWB offices in Olympia.
Billig, a Spokane Democrat, noted how Initiative 976 cut about $450 million from this year's transportation budget and significantly more in future years.
"We've got to figure out a way to deal with that," Billig said. "…In the Senate at least, I think we’ve got a responsible plan coming together which is going to not be a long-term solution but get us through to the next year and then we can look I think at some bigger solutions related to the revenue package next session."Ideas for next year were discussed earlier this week in the Senate Transportation Committee, where lawmakers, transportation advocates and citizens discussed Forward Washington. Forward Washington is a proposal for a $17-$19 billion transportation package that pairs new revenues with investments in Washington's transportation infrastructure.
AWB's Mike Ennis told the committee that Washington employers recognize the need for continued investments in transportation infrastructure. But he testified in opposition to the measure.
"The business community believes there is a correlation with infrastructure and economic development," Ennis said. "There is a return on our investment…But with the prospect of a low-carbon fuel standard hanging over our heads, we cannot support a transportation package at this time."
Billig addressed the low-carbon fuel standard at Thursday's Lobby Lunch.
"I strongly support it," Billig said. "I think we have to take action against climate change."
The low-carbon fuel standard has passed the House, and has yet to be heard in the Senate.
"The political reality is that there are obstacles and I don’t know what's going to happen on that," Billig said.
Billig also touched on taxes briefly in his opening remarks.
"I don’t think we're going to end up doing much on taxes this year," he said.
Some lawmakers have advocated to create a new state capital gains tax for several years. The debate intensified last year. AWB opposed the measure, and connected with family-owned businesses around the state to highlight how they would be impacted by the tax.
Billig said budgets would be released in the last week of February, followed by negotiations, and ending the session on time.
A video of Thursday's Lobby Lunch is located below.