In yesterday’s post on Gregoire’s transportation package proposal, Ben alluded to a GOP coup in the State Senate, which I’ll expound upon a bit. The coup is being officially referred to as a “majority coalition caucus“– the result of two conservative Democrats*, Rodney Tom (48th) and Tim Sheldon (35th), partnering with Senate Republicans to create an effective majority. It’s a direct challenge to the majority that the Democrats thought they had won following the election, and only possible because Tim Probst fell 74 votes shy of winning Don Benton’s seat to represent the 17th (Vancouver).
Back in late November, the Senate Democratic Caucus rolled out its own plans for committee leadership– Ed Murray would have been Senate majority leader and Tracey Eide Transportation Committee chair, among others. Eide’s promotion was something we foresaw had the election results worked in favor of a Mary Margaret Haugen defeat, which is exactly how things panned out. Thanks to this new coalition, however, all of the Democrats appointments are now in question– what it means for transportation, and transit, specifically, remains to be seen.
The “coup,” as some have aptly named it, has already announced its own plans (.pdf) for committee leadership in the Senate: twelve committees split between Democrat and Republican chairs, and the remaining co-chaired between the two parties. The Transportation Committee, under the coalition’s plans, would be co-chaired with a makeup of eight Senators from each party. And the Republican appointee to chair happens to be none other than Senator Curtis King (14th), from Yakima, who was the committee’s previous ranking minority member.
Any advantage that the Democrats would have had with Eide at chair is effectively negated with King as her equal. During debate over Senate Bill 6582, Senator King railed against the possibility of vehicle-license fees going to fund transit and any councilmanic action over such authority. The bill, which would have increased local transit funding options, was batted around in the Legislature before eventually dying in the Senate.
This vastly different power structure in the Senate makes chances for new revenue, let alone local options for transit, look fairly slim at this point. The Transportation Committee’s even split between the two parties makes it easily prone to deadlock– which means that any resulting inaction could steer Metro straight off the cliff they managed to avoid just last year. I think the silver lining here, should such a doomsday scenario occur, is that there’s a powerful incentive for the region’s transit agencies to restructure and regroup for a future lobbying effort that could provide a much more permanent solution.
Nonetheless, there’s a long ways to go before that bridge is even crossed. For the time being, we’ll wait to see what happens before the Legislative session kicks off in January.
*Both Senators Tom and Sheldon opposed the $20 CRC for Metro in some form or another.