Get Ready for More Debate on State’s Transportation Needs

By Steve Goldsmith, September 4, 2013, Puget Sound Business Journal

Having had a summer to think over their failure to pass a $10.5 billion transportation package, Washington state leaders are about to roll out another round of proposals on roads and transit.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he wants to call a special session on transportation in November, and leaders in the Republican-dominated state Senate say they’re open to the idea — if the new plan includes cost-cutting reforms.

“We’re now looking forward to crafting a package that has tangible support from lawmakers, businesses and citizens,” said state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, in a statement.

Tom leads the Majority Coalition Caucus that rules the Senate, and which is about to launch a series of seven public meetingson transportation starting Sept. 17 in Bellevue.

Inslee pushed what he called “urgent” transportation needs at a press conference with King County Executive Dow Constantine, who faces drastic budget cuts for Metro transit that could reduce or eliminate a third of bus routes without new revenue.

Other items in the transportation package that passed the House earlier in the year but failed to win enough Senate support include improvements to I-405 and I-5, the SR 167/SR509 so-called Puget Sound Gateway freight corridor, and a plethora of road and bridge upgrades and fixes.

Inslee didn’t offer specifics — he said lawmakers need to iron out a compromise, and he won’t call a special session unless “the votes are still there in the House, and the Senate is ready to act.”

King County, Seattle and the Sound Cities Association have proposed:

Passing a statewide gas tax increase of 10 cents per gallon.

Giving local authorities the ability to double an annual vehicle fee to $40.

Authorizing counties to impose a 1.5 percent vehicle-tab renewal fee based on vehicle value. This fee would generate $140 million next year, according to King County.

Inslee said he’s willing to set aside one of the key sticking points between the two parties: aColumbia River Crossing between Washington and Oregon, which Republicans say should be redesigned without light rail.

So get ready to hear a lot more about transportation in coming weeks.

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