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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

February 3, 2014 at 1:47 PM

Special session in December for tax package?

Senate Transportation Committee Co-Chairman Curtis King on Monday suggested holding a special session in December — after the November election — to complete a transportation tax package.

King said it’s increasingly unlikely the Legislature will get a deal this session, given that it ends March 13.

“There seems to be less of a will among everybody,” King, R-Yakima, said in the Senate wings. “Not just the (GOP-led Senate majority), but everybody. It’s going to be tough to do that in this session.”

Talks between the GOP-led Senate majority and Democrats, who control the House and governor’s office, broke down in December after multiple meetings.

The two sides had been trying to reach agreement on a tax package that would increase the state gas tax by more than 10 cents a gallon and fund about $10 billion to $12 billion worth in transportation spending over the next 12 years, including the new Highway 520 bridge and improvements to Interstate 405 and I-90.

Negotiators vowed to keep at it this session, but King said there’ve been no formal talks since last year.

Democrats maintain Republicans must prove they can get enough votes to pass a plan in the Senate before the two sides can negotiate a deal.

King said he hopes to present a transportation tax package to his caucus as early as this Wednesday. But he was still doubtful about getting something through the Legislature this session.

“My only point in suggesting the special session after the election is that it gives us all of the interim, for those who are willing to sit and work on it, and hopefully come to some agreement and then get it done,” he said.

Holding a special session before the election isn’t realistic because “once you call a special session you automatically have to stop raising money (under state law) and that’s not going to make a lot of legislators happy,” King said.

Republicans and Democrats have been unable to surmount disagreements over issues including storm water treatment, sales taxes collected from transportation projects, and funding for public transportation.

One of the biggest involves how to spend sales-tax revenue from transportation projects. That money now goes into the state general fund, which pays for operating expenses including health care and education.

The Senate majority wants that slice of sales-tax revenue to be applied to transportation projects, estimating it could boost spending by $750 million over the next 12 years. Democrats want the money to remain in the general fund, saying the state will need billions of dollars in the coming years to meet a state Supreme Court mandate to increase funding for education.

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