Friends and Neighbors,
With less than 30 days remaining to complete the session, things are moving quickly. Friday, Feb. 5, was the last day for House committees to advance bills referred to policy committees in the House – the deadline for advancing bills from fiscal committees was Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Now, our schedule has changed and we are focusing our time on consideration of bills by the full House. Any bills which pass the House will then be subject to the same committee and floor consideration in the Senate. And the deadline for getting bills passed from the chamber of origin is Feb. 17 – to allow the opposing chamber time to consider the bills as well.
One of the duties of the Senate is confirmation of governor appointees, including agency directors. Last Friday (Feb. 5) the Washington State Senate considered confirmation of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Lynn Peterson. The final vote was 21 in favor and 25 opposed to confirmation. Once a confirmation is voted down, the appointee can no longer serve.
While Peterson and WSDOT responded quickly to the Oso mudslide and the Skagit bridge collapse, there have been many problems in DOT's performance during her tenure. Recent examples include the I-405 high-occupancy toll lanes that made traffic congestion worse instead of better, glitches with the “Good to Go” system, the uncertainty of Bertha, strained relations with the contractor building the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel, on-going problems with oversize load limits – which could cause another bridge collapse, and continuing problems with the ferry system. The Senate clearly felt that better leadership was needed and held the Secretary accountable for the issues that have taken place during her three years as head of WSDOT.
I was very disappointed with the governor and his response to the vote opposing confirmation. Instead of recognizing the problems and addressing the concerns Washingtonians have with DOT's performance, he decided to lash out – not at the full Senate – but at one caucus within the Senate. Furthermore, he sent a very partisan laden email to state employees. Had he truly believed in Secretary Peterson's performance, he could have expressed disappointment in the outcome of the vote and spoke of things he felt she did well – then reassure DOT employees that he would find a new director and appoint a strong leader to help ensure that roads, bridges, and ferries are well maintained and that the transportation projects in the works, and those scheduled to begin soon, would be kept on track. Whether he, or anyone else, dislikes the outcome of that vote, we must move forward – and the governor needs to look forward, not look back. With last year's passage of a 16-year, $16 billion transportation package, we need a strong leader at DOT to assure those projects are kept on track and taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
As a representative, I hear from constituents every day who are looking for, and deserve, more accountability and better results from state government. When an agency director fails to address issues important to the citizens, then changes need to be made. As a legislator, I am held accountable by the citizens – and they expect legislators to assure them that state government is accountable to them – not for the citizens to be accountable to government. I believe that was the intent of the Senate with the confirmation vote.