What a difference a day makes. Supporters of raising the gas tax by 10½ cents a gallon picked up two votes Thursday, enough to push their proposal to pay for roads, buses, ferries and the like through the state House.
Two Democrats from rural districts, Reps. Brian Blake of Aberdeen and Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, reversed their positions a day after the tax and fee increase failed by a single vote.
“It was kind of depressing yesterday, I have to admit,” said the plan’s author, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, a Mercer Island Democrat who insisted she did not promise anything to get the votes. “It was just a matter of everybody kind of calming down, stepping back, looking at where they needed to be.”
Blake said after the 51-41 vote that he switched to help move the proposal along in hopes that road projects in his district would be added. He said such projects, particularly grade-separation work in Longview’s industrial area, would be needed to ensure his vote on any final deal.
But prospects are uncertain in the Senate.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Potlatch Democrat who is part of a mostly Republican coalition in charge there, said he doubts the Senate would take up the plan.
“I think if it ever had a vote here, it would have a referendum attached and I think the people (voters) would deep-six it by a very large majority,” Sheldon said.
Echoing the argument of House Republicans who criticized the tax increase Thursday, Sheldon said the Legislature should reform how the Department of Transportation spends money before giving more.
But Gov. Jay Inslee and Senate Transportation Committee Co-Chairwoman Tracey Eide, both Democrats, hoped for a bipartisan deal in the Senate. Inslee praised the plan as a way to create public-works jobs while heading off problems with infrastructure, saying it would keep bridges from collapsing, as one did last month into the Skagit River after a truck hit it.
More than $1 billion of the money would go to preserving existing roads and bridges while more than $1.4 billion would go to extending state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma and state Route 509 past Sea-Tac Airport. Another $175 million would pay for widening Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord. There’s also $433 million for the Columbia River Crossing on I-5 in Vancouver, but the Senate is unlikely to go along on that controversial bridge replacement. Clibborn said she won’t let any one project sink the whole plan.
The clock is working against supporters because of progress around a different negotiating table. Legislative leaders signed off on a budget deal Thursday and are working toward adjournment of their second overtime session.
Just one Republican backed the transportation taxes, Puyallup Rep. Hans Zeiger. There were four Democratic holdouts: Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, Kathy Haigh of Shelton, Chris Hurst of Enumclaw and Monica Stonier of Vancouver. Haigh later voted for a plan for how to spend the taxes she opposed – including $72 million on the Belfair Bypass in her district.