Eight members of the state Senate’s mostly-Republican Majority Coalition Caucus on Thursday unveiled a transportation proposal that would raise more than $12 billion in 12 years and include an 11.5 cent gas-tax increase over the next three years.
The package includes $6.5 billion to complete projects, including the North-South Freeway in Spokane, widening I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass and creating Highway 167 and Highway 509 connections to I-5. It also sets aside $667 million for non-highway spending including for transit, bicycling and pedestrians.
Republicans say they’ve made concessions in the new proposal. Democrats and the governor’s office don’t think so.
“Countless hours of negotiations have been undone and we are left more distant than we were when the year ended,” Rep. Judy Clibborn, Mercer Island Democrat and chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said.
Senate Transportation Committee co-chairman Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, introduced the proposal.
“We’ve moved,” King said. “We haven’t just sat there and said no. We’ve tried to put forth a proposal that is not based on rhetoric or sound bites, but it’s a proposal that’s based upon the needs of the state of Washington.”
Lawmakers last year were unable to surmount disagreements over issues including storm-water treatment, sales taxes collected from transportation projects and funding for public transportation.
Those issues have resurfaced in this proposal, including how to spend sales-tax revenue collected from transportation projects. That money now goes into the state general fund to pay for operating expenses including health care and education.
King’s proposal would move that money into the Connecting Washington Account, which he said would generate an additional $840 million, most of which would be used to complete transportation projects.
Under his proposal, lawmakers would use $177 million to increase state patrol salaries by up to 15 percent. The remaining $633 million would be evenly split to help complete the Highway 520 bridge west project and the North-South Freeway in Spokane.
Sen. Tracey Eide, Federal Way Democrat and co-chair of the transportation committee, said the sales-tax proposal will be a “huge hurdle” in negotiations, especially since the state Supreme Court issued a court order in January telling the Legislature to do more to increase funding for public schools.
King said that beyond the eight senators who support the package, he can count on five others who would back it if other issues were addressed as well. That’s about half the caucus. It needs 30 votes in the Senate and 60 votes in the House to pass.
Clibborn called for the caucus to demonstrate it has enough support to pass the package. “It is impossible to negotiate with a position that doesn’t have clear support from its backers.”
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said there would be no special session to pass the transportation package. “It’s time to get this done now,” he said.