Top lawmakers in Washington’s dysfunctional Senate Republican Caucus said today they still plan to release their own revised statewide transportation package, despite blowing past another self-imposed deadline to get it done.
Speaking with The Olympian’s Brad Shannon a day after the new proposal was supposed to have been released, Majority Leader-in-Name-Only Rodney Tom said, “We’re going to look at it and tweak it. What we are trying to do is get this process kick started and get back to the table.
“It’s hard to negotiate with yourself,” he added.
Tom’s comment certainly speaks to the sorry state of affairs in the Legislature’s upper chamber, which he singlehandedly caused with his power coup in late 2012. When you have to negotiate with yourself, you don’t know what you’re doing.
Ever since Tom and Tim Sheldon crossed over to formally join Mark Schoesler, Andy Hill, Don Benton, Pam Roach, and the Republican Caucus following the presidential election, it’s been amateur hour in the Washington State Senate.
On no front has that been more clearly apparent than on transportation.
There is widespread agreement that Washington has many unmet transportation needs, especially in the wake of the 2000 Legislature’s foolish reinstatement of Tim Eyman’s I‑695, which wiped out billions in funding for ferries, roads, and transit.
But Senate Republicans haven’t been able to agree amongst themselves on a package. Last year, they were so consumed by internal squabbling that they weren’t even able to produce a plan in committee prior to the end of the second special session. Nor did they take up the proposal passed by the House of Representatives.
Instead, they declared they would hold a “listening tour” in the fall to find out what people wanted in a transportation package. Before and during the tour, they spoke of an end-of-the-year special session to address the state’s transportation needs.
But it didn’t happen, because when the time came, they didn’t have their act together. The most they’ve been able to do since the tour is outline what some of them want: a heavily roads-centric package that stupidly reduces funding for our public schools. Democrats, naturally, aren’t on board with that, and so nothing has happened except for pointless negotiations behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick, and King County leaders, fed up with the inaction in the statehouse, are working on a Plan B. They are moving to ask voters in April to raise revenue to prevent draconian cuts to Metro bus routes and give the beleaguered, heavily defunded county roads division a shot in the arm so it can address the county’s growing maintenance backlog.
If anyone thought Dow Constantine’s announcement last month would light a fire under Senate Republicans, they were mistaken.
Weeks have gone by since Constantine announced that the county was pursuing Plan B and Senate Republicans have yet to even schedule a vote, which Democrats want to see happen before they’ll resume negotiations. (Democrats don’t see the point of bargaining with a Senate Republican Caucus that can’t agree with itself).
It’s telling that Rodney Tom and Mark Schoesler both “questioned” the need for a vote when Shannon talked to them. Evidently they’re at least capable of basic arithmetic. Since they can’t agree amongst themselves, their only options are to admit that they are at loggerheads internally, or to go on stonewalling.
They have chosen the latter. House Democrats suspect they will go on stonewalling right through the end of session.
Referring to Curtis King, who is supposed to be the Senate Republicans’ point man on transportation, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn observed, “He doesn’t want to say that they are not going to move anything, but they are not (moving anything). Every week he’s moved it another week (for announcing a new proposal) and we’re sort of at the end.”
“I’m not sure they want to have something,” she concluded.
Ironically, Senate Republicans’ ineptitude might ultimately lead to better public policy. If a roads-centric statewide package falls through this year and King County voters pass Plan B, pro-transit advocates will be free to push for a more multimodal package at the state level without having to worry about Metro’s fate.
All we have to do to defeat the Four Horsemen of the Buspocalypse is to pass Proposition 1 to Move King County Now. Then we’ll be in a position to craft a much smarter and more sensible statewide transportation package, freed from having our bus service as a pawn in Rodney Tom’s power games.