OLYMPIA — A $16 billion transportation tax and fee bill with an 11.9 cent gasoline tax increase hit a roadblock early Wednesday morning. After being parked for much of Tuesday in the House, it was sent on a detour to the Senate for final approval where it got stuck for hours in an dispute between majority Republicans and minority Democrats.
Tuesday was expected to be the final day of the third overtime session, but the House adjourned until later today after passing the transportation taxes and several other bills early Wednesday morning, leaving it mired in the Senate until just after dawn over an unrelated issue. It got final approval at 5:15 a.m. on a 37-7 vote.
It was an unusual situation that longtime Sen. Karen Keiser called “a train wreck”.
The bill contains money for highways and bridges, mass transit and ferry projects, and was praised by supporters as a way to create jobs and boost the economy as well as ease traffic problems. But opponents labelled it the biggest tax increase in state history, and argued unsuccessfully it should be sent to the ballot to give voters the final say.
Announced Monday, it cruised through the Senate with ease that evening on a 39-9 vote, but got stuck in the House Tuesday in an end of the session traffic jam of legislation as leaders tried to round up the votes necessary to pass it. Voting didn’t begin until after midnight and continued into what one legislator called “the dark of the morning.”
Republicans tried but failed to add an amendment that would automatically send the tax increases to the ballot for voter approval — something Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, called a stall tactic.
“Let’s do what we were sent here to do,” Riccelli said, later urging a vote for the package he said was good for Spokane and would keep the community moving forward. For every $1 Spokane County residents are estimated to pay in taxes, they will get $1.29 in projects.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, predicted the higher gasoline taxes will have some drivers going to Idaho to buy gas, and could prompt businesses to move out of the state. “Tax and spend isn’t a solution. It’s shackling our kids and grand kids,” he said.
It raises gasoline taxes a total of 11.9 cents per gallon over two years – 7 cents Aug. 1 and 4.9 cents on July 1, 2016. It also increases weight fees for trucks and passenger vehicles and levies a $5 fee on all new studded tires sold after July 1, 2016.
The transportation taxes and fees passed the House on a 54-44 vote, but because of an amendment involving Sound Transit, it was sent back to the Senate for another vote. There it ran head-on into a dispute over a bill to delay parts of Initiative 1351, which requires the state to reduce class sizes for grades kindergarten through 12th Grade.
A separate list of projects includes about $1 billion for Spokane. During the 16-year span, it would spend more than $1 billion on projects in the Spokane area, including some $879 million to complete the North Spokane Corridor.
Also on the project list for the Spokane area: $26.5 million over the next four years for the Medical Lake/Geiger interchange project on the West Plains, and a similar amount for work on the I-90 corridor in Spokane Valley. The current list calls for expansion of the highway between Barker and Harvard roads, although Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said that would be changed in the future for a new Liberty Lake interchange at Henry Road.
The University District Gateway Bridge would get $8.8 million, and improvements to U.S. Highway 195 between Colfax and Spangle total $17.6 million during the next six years. And $47 million would be set aside for renovations of the Palouse River – Coulee City Railroad. The Spokane Central Line, a transit project in the city of Spokane, would receive $15 million.
The list of projects and the bonds to pay for some of them are in separate bills that still need final approval in the Legislature. House and Senate leaders will have to decide when they will return to finish work on them and a handful of other bills.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter