Politics blog

Transportation funding bill losing steam in Senate

If nothing passes this session, it could be two years before it gets serious consideration again

Staff writerFebruary 5, 2014 


Traffic backs up northbound during Friday afternoon's rush-hour traffic on Interstate 5 through Joint Base Lewis-McChord July 29, 2011.

TONY OVERMAN — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Hopes for a $10 billion to $12 billion transportation improvements package appear to be waning at the Legislature.

Republican Sen. Curtis King of Yakima says he has a new version or proposal to unveil, possibly Friday. But it’s far from clear if King, who is chief transportation negotiator for the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, will even push for a Senate vote on it in the 60-day regular session that is almost half over.

Democrats have been waiting for a Senate vote before resuming bargaining.

“We haven’t met since the 18th of December,” King said this week of negotiators. “I look at this as trying to give us something new to start on so we’re a little further along the road.”

King said he told interest groups recently that it may be necessary to wait until after the November elections and ask Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session in December to vote on the deal — if one is crafted.

But Inslee’s office is not interested in that, and spokeswoman Jaime Smith said Wednesday that the next move for transportation is still a Senate vote on some kind of package. That’s been the Democrats’ position all year on any package — which could range from $10 billion to $12 billion and raise gas taxes by a dime or more per gallon, as well as raise other vehicle and transportation fees.

House Transportation Committee chair Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said Wednesday the House voted on a package last year so she also is waiting for a Senate vote or at least a vote count. So far she has neither – although she said she has agreed to 90 percent of the last plan she had seen from King.

“He doesn’t have to have a vote. All he has to do is a vote count,” Clibborn said.

“From my perspective, since they are the majority caucus, I’d like to see them give 14 votes,” Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson of Maury Island said earlier in the week. Nelson said there were 20 Senate Democrats willing to vote for Clibborn’s plan that passed the House last year.

In Pierce County, a few lawmakers of both parties have joined the chorus in wanting to see a package – in part because they want to see the rest of the freight corridor along state Route 167 completed to the Port of Tacoma. U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, also is pushing from the federal level.

But Clibborn did not sound confident of getting an agreement. She is questioning whether it is King or others in the coalition making decisions on whether to go ahead – or not.

“He doesn’t want to say that they are not going to move anything, but they are not (moving anything). Every week he’s moved it another week (for announcing a new proposal) and we’re sort of at the end,” Clibborn said. “I’m not sure they want to have something.”

A huge sticking point has been reforms that the GOP has demanded in the House and Senate. One such “reform” is the GOP’s insistence on taking sales tax collections on highway projects and diverting the cash out of the general fund in order to reinvest it in more projects. But that would take away money that now goes for state operations, including K-12 schools that the state Supreme Court says are already underfunded.

King said he believes lawmakers face too many challenges in 2015 – including major decisions about school funding – to wait that long.

“To think we could throw a transportation package on top of that is insane,” King said. “So that means you won’t be able to do it until 2016. So I’m asking people to think, is there any way we can come to agreement and have the governor call a special session?”

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

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