As legislators debate their budgets, CRC could be bargaining chip

By Lucas Wiseman
The Columbian/Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA — With only three days until the end of the regular legislative session, one party on Thursday declared its work completed, while the other said only half the work has been done.

“As of today, the Majority Coalition Caucus has completed its business, and is waiting on the House,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, speaking for his Republican-led coalition at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

The statement made Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, laugh. Both parties in the Legislature have introduced their budgets, and now it’s time for everyone to work on a compromise, he said.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, agreed that nobody’s work is done at this point.

“You don’t get to say ‘We did our budget, now we’re done’ without working on a compromise between the two plans,” Cleveland said.

The Senate coalition’s operating budget, approved by nine Democrats and 23 Republicans, proposes roughly $1.2 billion in cuts, while the House plan raises $900 million in new revenue by closing tax loopholes and making temporary taxes permanent.

“We simply don’t need new taxes to do the work of the people, our budget has shown that,” Benton said, criticizing the House Democrats’ plan.

But Moeller said the Republicans’ Senate budget plan forces an unfair choice between education and public services.

“You shouldn’t have to choose between throwing your kids or your grandma under the bus,” Moeller said. Moeller, Cleveland and Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, also said passing a budget can’t physically be done by Sunday, the last day of the regular legislative session.

CRC a bargaining chip

The Columbia River Crossing will certainly be a bargaining chip in upcoming budget negotiations between the two parties, Moeller said.

“The governor told us he is going to do all he can to make sure the CRC gets built,” Moeller said.

Several members of the Republican-led Senate coalition have criticized the CRC and said they support redesigning the bride without a light rail line. Meanwhile, most House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee are fighting for a transportation package that will raise taxes and put $450 million toward the megaproject as currently designed.

Oregon and Washington have been asked by CRC planner to each dedicate $450 million for the project by September. Otherwise, the project will be delayed and could lose crucial federal funding, CRC officials say.

Moeller agreed: “If we don’t take advantage of that almost $1 billion in federal funding, it will go to another state.”

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