Half of Senate majority backs gas tax package

Staff writerFebruary 13, 2014 


FILE - The HOT lane costs $.50 for northbound motorists on State Route 167 in Kent Thursday afternoon, December 22, 2011. (Peter Haley / Staff photographer)


At least half of the 26-member Senate majority supports a new proposal that would raise the gas tax by 11 1/2 cents while making changes in how transportation money is spent, Sen. Curtis King says.

King said he has at least 13 votes for the plan he unveiled Thursday.

Eight members of the mostly Republican group made their intentions known by standing behind the Yakima Republican transportation co-chairman at a news conference. The group included one Democrat, Majority Leader Rodney Tom, plus Republicans Michael Baumgartner of Spokane, Randi Becker of Eatonville, Joe Fain of Auburn, Andy Hill of Redmond, Steve Litzow of Mercer Island and Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee.

The taxes and fees in the proposal would raise $12.4 billion over 12 years. Republicans said they moved toward Democrats by increasing the amount of money in the package for mass transit to $365 million and for pedestrian and bike paths to $302 million. That's an increase of more than $300 million since the last time King put out a plan. Transit has been a major sticking point.

"We haven't just sat there and said no," King said. "We've moved. We've tried. But we must have these reforms. It's the only way that we can sell this package to the public."

Republicans are insisting on what they say are reforms that will restore faith in transportation spending after high-profile missteps. They doubled down on a proposal to raise money by rerouting sales tax on transportation projects back into transportation rather than to the main state fund used for schools, social services and other programs. Democrats oppose such a move, which would raise $840 million.

No voting plans were announced. Instead, Republicans say Gov. Jay Inslee and Democrats should resume negotiations with them. Talks broke off around the start of the year as Democrats called for Republicans to provide a vote count -- something they resisted doing as late as Wednesday.

But House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn signaled no readiness to restart talks because, she said, King still doesn't have 25 votes to pass the plan through the Senate. Clibborn, a Mercer Island Democrat, said Democrats won't agree to take sales tax revenue out of the main budget. King's new proposal actually moves the parties farther apart, she said.

"They take double the sales tax (that they proposed before)," Clibborn said. That is absolutely a nonstarter. It is a real step backward," Clibborn said.

-Brad Shannon contributed to this report.

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