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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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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.
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.”
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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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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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.
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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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.
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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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.