Gasoline tax fails on final day of final session

Road improvements and transit tax fall in Senate

Staff writerJune 30, 2013 

State lawmakers made their long-overdue exit from Olympia on Saturday without passing billions of dollars worth of funding for roads, ferries, sidewalks and buses.

That means drivers won’t have to cough up an extra 101/2 cents at the pump while the South Sound will keep waiting for a wider Interstate 5 along Joint Base Lewis-McChord and a completed state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma.

Senate leaders declined to consider a House-passed package of fees, taxes and local taxing authority for agencies such as Metro Transit and Pierce Transit. The package was a top priority of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who wasted no time assigning blame once lawmakers adjourned their second special session.

“There are Republicans and Democrats who are both sitting in traffic. There are Republicans and Democrats who would be hired by the tens of thousands if we passed a transportation plan,” Inslee said. “But we have had a total failure by the Republican Party to pass a single transportation package after six months of dithering and inaction by that caucus.”

Leaders of the mostly GOP Senate majority said they would work during their break to come up with a plan for raising money for projects while also making changes to the way the state Department of Transportation spends money.

“The citizens of the state of Washington are not ready to pay higher gas taxes,” said Curtis King, a Yakima Republican and Senate Transportation Committee co-chairman, citing polls. “At some point we’re going to have to (raise the gas tax), but we’ve got to go educate the public. We have to show that we have made efforts to make our transportation system more efficient and effective and less costly, and we haven’t done that.”

Senators said the House vote Thursday came too late to work out a deal.

And Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom suggested Inslee and other Democrats didn’t do enough to compromise, refusing to back off on support for the Columbia River Crossing replacement that many Republicans opposed because it would extend Portland’s light rail across the bridge to Vancouver.

“If you’re going to have a transportation package, you need a governor — if you want this thing to pass — who’s going to get out front and get out there and lead, and we have not seen that,” said Tom, one of the two Democrats in the majority coalition.

Inslee said the Senate failed to offer an alternative. Leaders of the coalition backing the funding rushed to defend the governor. Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson called him “a ferocious leader on transportation” who met at least weekly with labor, business and environmental interests that were lobbying for the package.

“I’ve not seen a governor work as hard for a transportation package as this one,” Johnson said.

But the bipartisan backing that achieved gas-tax increases in 2003 under Gov. Gary Locke and in 2005 in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s first year didn’t materialize. Just one Republican, state Route 167 advocate and Puyallup Rep. Hans Zeiger, voted for the measure in the House.

Some in the Senate majority wanted a transportation funding measure, including Sen. Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup and Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn, but they said the House proposal was flawed, and Inslee’s entreaties to hold a vote were not successful.

The package was defeated after Senate Democrats fell well short in an attempt to force the proposal to the floor. Members of the majority stuck together on the procedural vote as they have at other times this year when they disagreed on policy.

Inslee didn’t rule out calling lawmakers back earlier than their scheduled return in January to take up the issue again.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@ @Jordan_Schrader

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