Politics blog

Surprise! Senate majority says new transpo plan now due next week

OlympianFebruary 7, 2014 

Another week will go by without a new state Senate transportation proposal going public. But Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom and his Republican negotiator, Sen. Curtis King, say most members of their Majority Coalition Caucus have been briefed on the latest plan they hope to unveil publicly before too long.

Details won’t be made public until sometime next week – once six or eight caucus members absent from Friday’s briefing get a chance to learn details and after some “tweaks” are made to the product, Tom said late Friday afternoon. 

The plan is expected to include between $10 billion and $12 billion of new spending and require a gas tax increase of at least a dime, and the Senate has been demanding a few policy changes that the House has so far not wanted. 

As was reported earlier this week, the Senate has struggled to get a new plan on the boards after many fits and starts. 

“We’re going to look at it and tweak it. What we are trying to do is get this process kick started and get back to the table,” Tom said Friday. “It’s hard to negotiate with yourself.’’

Of course, House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee have been saying almost the same thing about negotiating with themselves. In fact, they’ve been waiting since Dec. 18 to learn whether the Senate can back up its transportation funding preferences with a full Senate floor vote. 

“That’s cute,” House Transportation Committee chair Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said after hearing Tom’s comments about negotiating alone.

The House passed a transportation plan last year mostly along party lines. Since adjournment without a deal, Clibborn said the chambers have had 19 negotiation sessions but she’s still not seen movement from the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.

That said, she said she welcomes a new plan – and hopes to learn how many Senate Majority Caucus members could support it.

“I’m really anxious to see what is in it. There may be some differences that are interesting,” Clibborn said. “If there is no real difference there is no reason to get into a room. But if there is, I’m ready and very willing to talk about anything that shows movement.’’

She’d also like to know how many Republicans are willing to vote for such a plan – something that neither Tom nor Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler was willing to promise on Friday. Both questioned the need for a vote.

A sticking point in talks has been the Senate’s demand that sales tax collected from highway projects be diverted out of the state general fund, which pays for schools and other government operations, and into transportation projects.  

Tom says the Senate’s highway plan is designed in a way to produce such a large economic development impact that it will generate new taxes to replace those lost. But Clibborn has said the loss could be as high as $750 million. 

Once again, stay tuned.

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