Republican state Sen. Curtis King of Yakima is making good on a Senate Majority Coalition Caucus pledge to work for a transportation tax plan. His caucus, some may recall, killed action in the marathon legislative sessions that ended in late June – while claiming they wanted to work on a different approach that included reforms.
King's call for a listening tour around the state comes as talk is also reviving for a scaled-back version of the Columbia River Crossing bridge project along I-5 – the very project that the Republican-dominated Senate majority had staunchly rejected. News stories about proposals to build a somewhat cheaper $2.75 billion bridge – with light rail and without immediate participation by Washington state – are here and here.
Meanwhile, King has invited state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson on a listening tour around the state, sending her a letter outlining a proposal for seven regional meetings to talk about transportation needs and solutions. Peterson has received the letter and is reviewing it, spokesman Lars Erickson said Thursday.
Jerry Cornfield of the Herald has a good account about King’s effort and House Transportation chair Judy Clibborn’s optimism that Senate Republicans will develop a tax proposal. "I think most people realize we do need additional revenues. We will have to have a list of reforms," King told Cornfield.
King has made clear the Majority Coalition also wants to see "reforms" to lower costs of transportation projects (see list). The ideas range from streamlined permits to reduced labor costs on highway projects and shifting nearly $400 million in sales tax revenue in the 2017-19 biennium off public road projects and into transportation budgets.
That latter fund shift would come near the end of the time frame in which the Supreme Court is ordering higher investments in K-12 public schools, but the overlap in 2017-19 would mean less general tax revenue available to schools and more pressure for general tax increases.
If everything lined up perfectly there is a long shot chance of a special legislative session late in November. But transportation solutions often move at the speed of backed up traffic. That is why the issue is more likely to jell – if it does at all – in January when the Legislature returns for a short 60-day session to write a supplemental operating budget.