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House gas-tax package: More money for city, less for Valley

OLYMPIA – Transportation projects in the city of Spokane would get more money, but projects in the Valley would get less in the Legislature’s second proposal to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 11.7 cents and raise billions for road and bridge construction.

House Democrats released a $15 billion proposal, which, like the earlier Senate plan, would raise gasoline taxes by 5 cents per gallon next year, 4.2 cents in 2017 and 2.5 cents in 2018. It would also raise weight fees on cars and trucks.

Unlike the Senate proposal, however, it does not shift sales tax collected on transportation projects, which now goes into the general fund, into the accounts that pay for road projects. Instead it relies on nearly $1.3 billion in savings from “practical design” changes to existing road and bridge projects, which would be available to spend on new projects. House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn said the Transportation Department has had a tendency to “over-design” some projects in recent years, resulting in higher costs.

The House plan also does not remove funding for some projects if the state enacts stricter carbon pollution standards, a provision in the Senate proposal that Republicans call a “consumer protection clause” but Democrats have labeled a “poison pill” because Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing for carbon reductions in an effort to fight global climate change.

Clibborn said those carbon reduction is important, but any change should be a separate discussion from a package of transportation projects the Legislature has been studying discussion, but unable to pass, for two years.

Both plans would set aside $750 million to complete the North Spokane corridor in their lists of more than $8 billion of transportation projects The House budget also would spend $8.8 million to construct the University District Gateway Bridge, a project not listed in the Senate proposal, and $18 million on the Central City Line, compared to $10 million in the Senate plan.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Spokane Democrat who sits on the committee, called the proposal a good package for the city of Spokane and said it would “start addressing the congestion and connectivity issues that are holding us back.”

Missing from the House plan are several projects in the Interstate 90 corridor that are in the Senate plan: $21 million for a stretch between Barker and Harvard Roads, $26.5 million for an interchange at Henry Road and $4.4 million for the Medical Lake and Geiger interchanges. The Senate plan would also spend $19.5 million for a Barker Road grade separation.

The final list of projects is still subject to negotiations, Riccelli said, but inclusion of Valley projects may depend on support for the overall package from 4th District legislators, who generally oppose tax increases.

The Senate proposal has already passed that chamber, and the new House plan is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday. Once it passes the committee, Clibborn said she believes negotiations will begin in earnest with Senate leaders. The session has only two weeks left, but that could be enough to reach an agreement that eluded the Legislature in 2013 and 2014.

“It doesn’t take you months to negotiate if you really, really want to negotiate,” she said. 

WaLeg Day 74: Senate gas tax hike gets heavy support in House committee

OLYMPIA – A steady stream of business leaders and local government officials urged a House panel to raise the gasoline tax and several other vehicle fees and spend the projected $15 billion on roads, bridges, mass transit and ferries.

Although some had highway or bridge projects they think should be added to the proposed list, most speakers who came before the House Transportation Committee in the three-hour hearing said they supported an 11.7 cent increase in the state gas tax that passed the Senate earlier this month. The proposal also has higher fees for vehicle weights, drivers and a new $5 fee on each new studded tire sold after Jan. 1, 2017.

The list of projects in Eastern Washington totals more than $1 billion, with money to complete the North Spokane Corridor, improvements to the Interstate 90 corridor between Barker and Harvard roads, a grade separation for Barker Road and money for Spokane’s Central City Line, Jim Hedrick, a spokesman for Greater Spokane Incorporated, said. It will help the Spokane area “meet the demands of companies we want to recruit,” he said.

Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson said he supported the gas tax, but wondered if the state could add some money for an interchange to Henry Road, for which the city was willing to put up $16 million. The City of Spokane Valley supports statewide measures to improve transportation, Alex Soldano, a lobbyist for the city, said.

The mayor of Seattle and a Pullman city councilman, representatives of Chambers of Commerce and port districts, business organizations and union leaders all urged the House Transportation Committee to support the combination of higher taxes and expanded transportation projects.

The Washington Oil Marketers Association, a trade group for the petroleum industry, traditionally opposes high gasoline taxes and the state’s current level of 37.5 cents is 12.5 cents higher than Idaho so it puts border communities at a disadvantage, said Rob Smith, association spokesman. It “doesn’t necessarily support” the proposed increase, but it definitely opposes the low carbon fuel standards that Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing, Smith said.

Inslee has proposed a carbon cap-and-trade system rather than a gas tax increase, with money going to both transportation projects and general state spending. The Senate transportation proposal calls for reductions in money that would go to mass transit if the low carbon fuel standards are enacted.

Jessica Finn Coven, Washington director of Climate Solutions, criticized what some call a “poison pill” on carbon fuel standards. It would force the state into a tradeoff between transit and cleaner fuels, she said.

Bruce Speight, director of the Washington Public Interest Research Group, argued the spending priorities in the list of projects was “backwards” and should spend far more on road repair and maintenance and mass transit, and less on major highway expansions because people are driving less.

The committee hasn’t yet scheduled a meeting to amend or approve the proposal.

WALeg Day 50: Gas tax hike passes Senate 27-22

OLYMPIA — A package of higher taxes and fees which would raise gasoline taxes by 11.7 cents over three years passed the Senate on a 27-22 vote.
It then approved a list of some $15 billion worth of projects those taxes and fees would support — nearly $1 billion of it in the Spokane area — on a 41-8 vote.
A bipartisan group of supporters conceded it wasn't a perfect plan but said it would get better as it continues through the Legislature, The bill now goes to the House, which is opposed to some shifts in money from the state's general fund to transportation projects.
Within minutes of its passage, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, issued a statement that "the bad outweighs the good".
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he would vote for the first transportation package in his 23 years in the Legislature because  it provides for road projects all around the state, not just large projects in a few locations like gasoline taxes in 2003 and 2005. 
Opponents, who included some of the chamber's most conservative Republicans and some of its most liberal Democrats, criticized how the bill would raise money and where it is expected to be spent.
"My district, mostly rural, is going to be effected horribly by this," Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, said. Washington would have one of the nation's highest gasoline taxes, along with the highest state minimum wage, a combination that could drive out businesses, he said.
A vote on the tax package was delayed from Friday when Democrats asked whether it would need a two-thirds supermajority to move through the Senate. 
When senators returned to the floor this morning, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen said it would, if that rule was constitutional. But it's not, he added.
"The Senate may adopt an unconstitutional rule, but the president will not enforce it," he told senators, who then delayed for a second time a vote on the tax and fee package needed for a multi-billion dollar plan of large transportation projects, maintenance, ferry construction and mass transit.
On the first day of the 2015 session, the Republican-led majority changed Senate rules to require a two-thirds majority to move any new tax to its final vote. At the time, the change was seen as heading off taxes being discussed by Gov. Jay Inslee, such as a carbon fuel tax or a capital gains tax,  
That rule hadn't been tested until Friday, when the Senate began consideration of a series of changes to the state's transportation policy and a revenue package that would raise an estimated $15 billion over 16 years, much of it from an 11.7 cent increase in the gasoline tax over a three-year period.
Before that could come up for a vote, however, Democrats asked if it needed a two-thirds majority to move to a final vote. Owen, who rules on such parliamentary questions, said he'd have to study the issue and the vote was put off until today.
The gas tax isn't new, but some things in the proposal are. Owen said. Those include weight fees that will be used for a variety of transportation purposes, and an increase for some people renewing their vehicle licenses, which would be used for ferry construction. Described in the bill as fees, they are clearly taxes, Owen said, and the entire bill as written would need a two-thirds vote under the new rule.
But is the rule constitutional? Sen. Steve Hobbs asked.
Owen, who said he and his office had been researching that question since before the session started and was clearly prepared to answer, said no, it is not. The state's constitution requires simple majority votes for "ordinary legislation", and the gas tax bill falls under that umbrella, he said.
"The president has no choice but to follow the dictates of the Constitution," Owen said.
A vote on the bill was delayed, the Senate went at ease and both parties went into caucus to discuss their next moves. They came back at 12:30 p.m. and began debate.
Before the debate, began, however, Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, essentially told Owen his ruling was wrong and the rule change was constitutional.
"We disagree," Baumgartner said. "For the time being, we're going to move forward and look at other options in the future."
We'll update the story as it develops.
 
 
 

Roundtable: Road projects have big payoff

OLYMPIA – Washington would get a major economic boost by finishing the North Spokane Corridor and some other major road projects worth $7 billion, a state business group said Tuesday. It faces significant costs and problems if the Legislature continues to deadlock over some type of tax-funded roads package. . . 

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WA Lege 2014: The done and the undone

OLYMPIA – The Legislature closed up shop with seven minutes before its constitutionally mandated midnight stopping time Thursday, ending a short session that was short on expectations, and many would argue, short on accomplishments.

After passing an updated operating budget that even supporters said contained plenty of things to dislike, a couple of bills on many legislators’ priority lists were saved from oblivion and moved back and forth between chambers with admirable speed.

Military veterans were granted in-state tuition at Washington’s public colleges and universities, regardless of how long they’ve been in the state. A $40 fee home buyers pay to file their documents, which pays for programs to fight homelessness but due to expire this year, was extended until 2019.

Meanwhile, the subject getting the most attention seemed to be deciding what medical procedures can be performed by plebotomists, medical assistants who draw blood. A phlebotomist bill ping-ponged back and forth across the Rotunda and showed up on one floor or the other eight times in the last eight days as the chambers tweaked the bill with amendments. It eventually had to be untweaked because the wrong amendment was added – and approved – before people noticed, so that amendment had to be subtracted and replaced, prompting three roll-call votes on the last day.

“I didn’t know what a phlebotomist was until today,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, deadpanned. . . 

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Transpo package is dead

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler talks about what will and won't happen during the remainder of the session at a press conference with House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen and Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette.

OLYMPIA — Good news for Spokane motorists: You won't be paying an extra 11.5 cents in taxes for gasoline over the next three years. Bad news: The Legislature doesn't have a plan to come up with the money to finish the North Spokane Corridor or several other "mega projects" many people think it needs.

A possible $8 billion transportation package that would raise fuel and motor vehicle taxes and generate money for major road projects, maintenance and mass transit will not pass the Legislature this session, Republican leaders of both chambers said today.

The lasts chance for a package crashed with recriminations all around.

They blame with Senate Democrats for not being willing to accept reforms to the way the state plans, funds and builds major transportation projects Senate Democrats, in turn, said the predominantly Republican coalition that controls the Senate never even scheduled a committee hearing on their package so it could be brought to the chamber for a vote.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen said Inslee should have led a "cohesive effort" to bring the leaders of both chambers together and negotiate a deal. A spokesman for Inslee said the governor had a meeting with Senate Transportation Co-Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, on Monday and asked if a new proposal was worth bringing all leaders together for negotiations and was told "No."

 Inslee, who has made a transportation package one of his top priorities since taking office last year, said he was disappointed there would be no package and found it difficult to understand why the Legislature couldn't reach an agreement on something the state clearly needs.

 The Housed passed its version of a package last year, and Democrats who control that chamber said they were ready to negotiate as soon as the Senate passed one of its own. Senate Republicans introduced a different proposal last month that never had the necessary votes to pass and thus never came to a vote.

That Senate version had $750 million to finish the corridor, sometimes called the North-South Freeway.  The House version had about $480 million, which would complete the next phase.

The failure to reach agreement on the package is not a surprise. On a lobbying trip to Olympia in January, Spokane's business, political and civic leaders were told not to get to expect a package would come out of  the short legislative session.

Senate majority offers roads package

OLYMPIA — The coalition controlling the Senate released a $12 billion transportation package that would raise gasoline taxes by 11.5 cents over three years and finish several major projects, including Spokane's North-South Freeway.

They said they have support from 13 of their members — or half the ruling caucus — meaning they'd need 17 votes from minority Democrats to pass the spending package and its accompanying bonds. 

At a lunchtime press conference, a group of eight senators, including Spokane Republican Mike Baumgartner, called for quick negotiations with House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee to try to find a package that can get super majority support in both chambers. The Senate proposal differs significantly from the House plan in spending for some projects and calls for changes in the way the state plans, builds and taxes transportation projects. Among those changes, an end to sales tax on those projects, which is a financial hit to the state's general fund.

Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said removing the sales tax lowers the price of the project, and the general fund will more than make up the loss through the added economic development the projects will generate. The reforms are necessary to restore the public's faith after some high profile problems with big projects like the 520 bridge and the Alaska Way tunnel.

The package would spend $750 million to finish the North-South Freeway, which is also called the North Spokane Corridor, so it connects with Interstate 90. By building that and other large projects in phases, the state doesn't see the economic impact of a completed project, Republicans argued.

The North-South Freeway has been under construction for years, and under discussion for decades. Baumgartner said he grew up believing the road "lives in the land of fairies and flying unicorns."

"I will not support a package that does not allow full funding for the North-South Freeway to come to I-90," he said.

Also on the project list are $15 million for widening State Route 904 from Cheney to I-90, and $11.7 million to add a passing lane on U.S. 195 between Colfax and Spangle.

The gasoline tax would go up 4 cents next year, 4 cents in 2016 and 3.5 cents in 2017. The proposal doesn't have language that automatically sends it to the ballot, but senators said it could easily wind up there.

They challenged House Democrats and Inslee to meet with them next Wednesday morning to begin negotiations. Tom said he "absolutely" believed a transportation package could be passed in the current legislative session, which is now slightly more than half over.

House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, cast doubt on the prediction, however. She released a statement that described the package as undoing work from last year and putting "untested ideas" on the table. And the package doesn't have clear support from the coalition she added.

"We remain insistent that the Senate Majority either pass its proposal or provide a clear demonstrations that it has enough votes to pass," she said. "We look forward to resuming negotiations once the Senate Majority has finished negotiation among itself."

 

Transpo package gets hearing today

OLYMPIA – Senate negotiators will begin the push today for a package of new road projects and improved maintenance that could complete the long-discussed North Spokane Corridor and raise gasoline taxes by 11.5 cents over three years.
The package of 10 related bills, with a total price tag of $8.7 billion for projects all over the state, gets a formal airing at a Senate Transportation Committee hearing this afternoon. Whether it will prompt a special session or just lay the groundwork for more debate next year is unknown…
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Special session starts Thursday

OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature will meet in a special session starting Thursday to consider a $10 billion transportation package and other legislation Gov. Jay Inslee said is key to landing the manufacturing plant for a new Boeing jetliner.

Standing with legislative leaders, Boeing executives and union officials, Inslee said a combination of transportation improvements, extended tax breaks, faster permits for building and aerospace education programs would guarantee the company will build the new jetliner and a new carbon fiber wing in Washington state.

The current 777 facility supports 56,000 jobs, and the new plane will create thousands more, Inslee  said: “These jobs are ours if we act now.”. .

 

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Transportation hearing moves to CV High

A Senate committee's hearings to let the public suggest what to do about the state's transportation problems are proving so popular that the Spokane session is being moved to a bigger venue.

The Transportation Committee's "feedback forum" will be at the Central Valley High School theater, 6 p.m. on Oct. 2. Originally it was planned for the Greater Spokane Inc., headquarters in downtown.

Committee Co-chairman Curtis King said previous hearings have drawn big crowds. In Bellevue, they had nearly 400 people , and the Everett hearing was also standing-room. "Hundreds of people turned out, which made us realize that some of the other facilities may not be large enough to handle the crowd," King said in a press release announcing the change.

The CV theater, at 821 Sullivan Road, holds 500 and can accommodate people with disabilities.

State transportation hearing coming to Spokane

OLYMPIA — After trying but failing to craft a package of major road projects in this year's Legislature, the Senate Transportation Committee will hold seven forums around the state to try to craft a new package.

One of the stops on the "listening tour" will be in Spokane on Oct. 2 at thle Greater Spokane Inc., offices, 801 W. Riverside Ave.

Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, who share the chairman duties on the committee, said they want to get public comment for a package that could be introduced next year.

“We’re looking forward to hearing from Washington residents on their priorities for our transportation system, as well as sharing some of our thoughts for how it can be improved,” said King, in a press release announcing the meetings.  

“Transportation is the backbone to a vital economy, both for jobs and for a strong infrastructure that drives economic development,” Eide said in the press release. “We need to make sure the public understands what’s at stake here, and the public needs the opportunity to make their priorities known.”

During the session, proposals to raise the gasoline tax and some motor vehicle fees to pay for as much as $10 billion in new roads and bridges and maintenance on existing structures collapsed in disagreements over the proposed Columbia River Crossing, the amounts to be spent on mass transit and road maintenance, and proposed improvements in the way the state Transportation Department contracts for major projects.

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Supporters of roads package rally

Ava Conner, 6, accompanied her mother Jennifer to the Capitol for today's rally for a transportation package.

OLYMPIA — Shouts of "Pass it Now" filled the Capitol steps this morning as supporters of a new package of taxes and road projects tried to goad the Legislature into action.

In front of the podium where a couple hundred sign-carrying protesters in hard hats and safety vests. Behind the podium were folks in suits and ties. It was a visual reminder that the package has the support of labor unions and the state's business community, backed up by speakers like Gov. Jay Inslee, who has made passing a transportation package one of his top priorities for the special session.

"We've got to finish what we have started," Inslee told the crowd. "It is crunch time…There is a tooth fairy but there is no transportation fairy." 

Where it lacks support, however, is in parts of the GOP caucuses in both chambers of the Legislature, where opponents of the Columbia River Crossing bridge between Portland and Vancouver are against including money for that project. Some members also want any taxes the package will include to be sent to a statewide vote in November by including a referendum clause in the legislation.

Some gas tax money for N. Spokane Corridor

OLYMPIA – A proposal to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 2 cents per year for five years and impose or hike other taxes would provide some $420 million for further work on the North Spokane Corridor.

The long-running road construction project – sometimes called the North-South Freeway – is one of five designated statewide “impact” projects in the Connecting Washington package proposed Wednesday by House Democrats, and the only one in the Spokane area. . .

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Gas tax proposal coming

OLYMPIA — A major transportation plan will be unveiled Wednesday that features 2-cent per year increases in the state's gasoline tax.

The proposal, from House Transportation Committee Chairman Judy Clibborn, will divide the money between new projects and maintenance and eventually raise the state's gas tax by a total of 10 cents.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who has said he wants a transportation package that would both build new projects and fix some of its crumbling infrastructure, refused to endorse it Tuesday, saying only that it is "a good start on that discussion."

Inslee named a new transportation secretary as one of three cabinet-level appointments, selecting Lynn Peterson, who is currently a transportation advisor to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said majority Democrats in that chamber view the projects the tax increase would support as a jobs package, and said the plan will set aside significant amounts for maintenance. Previous gasoline tax packages have been criticized as emphasizing new mega projects and not leaving enough for ongoing road repairs.

Chopp said it was too early to say what the exact split would be, or the prospects to pass such a plan in the House. "It's just a concept paper at this point." 

Another unknown: what type of majority such a plan will need. The state Supreme Court is deliberating on the constitutionality of voter-passed laws for a two-thirds supermajority on any tax increase.

If that standard is upheld, "it's going to be extremely difficult" to pass that type of tax increase in the Legislature, Inslee said. That would mean voters would have to approve it in the November election.