Politics & Government

Deal not yet sealed, but gas-tax increase advances

The Legislature voted in Wednesday’s early hours to approve the largest gas-tax increase in Washington’s history and the first in a decade.

The 11.9 cents-a-gallon increase could pave the way for major highway spending in the South Sound. But approval of borrowing and spending plans tied to the taxes will have to wait.

Lawmakers were unable to finish their work for the year Wednesday, the fourth day of a third special session. Seeing the Senate paralyzed by a dispute on school funding, the House sent its members home just before 3:30 a.m.

House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said she expected House members to return as soon as their schedules line up, probably sometime next week, and pass the measures that allow the money to be spent.

“It’s kind of anticlimactic to leave it this way,” Clibborn said, “but I do think the hard part is done.”

The hard part was a day of vote-wrangling in the House capped by a 54-44 nailbiter of a vote to send the tax and fee package to the Senate for final approval. The Senate’s 37-7 signoff hours later sent the plan to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

The taxes won majority support from both parties in the Senate. In the House, Democrats mostly supported the tax plan and Republicans mostly opposed it.

The promise of completing state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma, widening Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord and finishing other local projects helped persuade 18 of the 24 lawmakers who represent Pierce County to support the taxes, including majorities from both parties in both chambers.

Of the 12 lawmakers who represent Thurston County, half voted in support of the gas-tax increase.

Thurston County projects include $72 million to rebuild the interchange of I-5 and Marvin Road in Lacey and $58 million for a bypass of state Route 510 through Yelm.

Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said the bottleneck on I-5 in his district needs to be addressed to make it less likely scheduled Pentagon cuts would hit JBLM.

“The military’s been loud and clear about the fact that we either fix it or we could lose mission,” Muri said after the vote.

Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, opposed the measure. She said drivers in her district couldn’t afford the gas tax increase despite the nearly $500 million JBLM project in her district.

“The revenue vote is about who this burden falls on, and it falls on working families,” Kilduff said.

Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, invoked the 2013 collapse of the Skagit River Bridge for why lawmakers should fund infrastructure. Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, brought up Bertha, the stalled tunnel-boring machine in Seattle, to argue that the state is mismanaging transportation projects.

Kilduff Young, Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, Carol Gregory, D-Federal Way, and Graham Hunt, R-Orting, opposed the measure. Supporting it were Fey, Muri, Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way, David Sawyer, D-Lakewood, Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, and Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup. In 2013, Zeiger was the lone Republican to vote for a gas tax but has since picked up more allies.

In the Senate, Pam Roach, R-Auburn, opposed the tax bill while supporters included Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, and Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma.

To secure the approval of the transportation package, House members have to pass a spending plan as well as muster the 60 percent support necessary to approve bonds.

The gas tax would rise 7 cents Aug. 1 and another 4.9 cents July 1, 2016, to 49.4 cents. Fees such as those on vehicle weight would also go up as part of paying for more than $16 billion in spending over 16 years.

The deal would allow Sound Transit to ask voters, possibly next year, for $15 billion in taxes to expand light rail.

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