OLYMPIA – The Senate approved a controversial shift in spending for major road projects Friday but had to delay a vote on increasing the gasoline tax to settle a question of how many votes it would need to pass.
Senators spent much of the day making changes to the state’s transportation policy, with a pointed debate over the sales tax that is charged for purchases on road, bridge and ferry projects. A key element of a bipartisan transportation package was to shift the sales tax from the state’s general fund – which pays for public schools, colleges and most social programs – to a fund that would use that money strictly for transportation.
Democrats argued the general fund could not absorb the loss with the state facing a court order to spend billions more on public schools. Republicans managed to amend the bill to remove the state sales tax entirely from any project that would be built with a new gasoline tax through 2019, and all transportation projects after that, making current projects cheaper.
But many of the changes apply first to projects that would be built with an 11.4 cent increase in the gasoline tax and other increases in taxes or fees related to transportation. A vote on that bill had to be delayed until Monday at the earliest after Democrats asked for a parliamentary ruling on whether it was subject to a two-thirds majority that Republicans instituted at the beginning of the session for moving new taxes to a final vote.
Democrats who control the House said earlier this week they will not vote on a Senate transportation package that includes a change in the sales tax for transportation projects until questions about education funding are settled.
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