Inslee Has Tall Order for Lawmakers In Special Session

By Andrew Garber, November 6, 2013, Seattle Times

Gov. Jay Inslee wants the Legislature to pass a $10 billion transportation-tax package within a week as part of a special session that’s also supposed to extend tax breaks for the aerospace industry, namely Boeing.

But it’s not clear that’s a realistic goal, considering state lawmakers have struggled for months to reach agreement on transportation. Members of the GOP-led majority in the Senate hinted strongly Tuesday that reaching a deal could take longer.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, standing by Inslee at an afternoon news conference, said that given the complexity of the transportation issues, “there is an understanding by all the parties that (a deal) might have to be a second phase.”

Inslee is calling the special session, starting Thursday, in a bid to get Boeing to build its new 777X in Washington state.

In addition to a transportation-tax package, Inslee wants the Legislature to extend existing commercial airplane-tax incentives — due to expire in 2024 — until 2040 and expand a sales-and-use tax exemption for construction of buildings used to manufacture “superefficient airplanes” to all commercial airplanes and suppliers of wings and fuselages.

Other goals for the session include boosting enrollment in aerospace fields at community and technical colleges, and streamlining permitting for the development and expansion of manufacturing sites.

Few details were released about the tax package under discussion, but House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn said it includes a 10.5-cent increase in the state gas tax phased in over 12 years.

Clibborn said the package is similar to a proposal brought up in the state House earlier this year.

Along with the gas tax, that proposal also would have increased various weight and title fees, including a 15 percent boost in weight fees for freight trucks of more than 10,000 pounds.

The House package included billions of dollars for major projects, including work on Interstate 405 and Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90.

Lawmakers on Tuesday weren’t willing to outline projects that would be funded, except to say there’s no money in the package for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.

That was the biggest area of disagreement earlier this year. Republicans opposed the bridge project in part because it included light rail, which they argued was a waste of potential road space.

Other potential stumbling blocks remain, however. One of the biggest is a proposal by Republicans to use sales-tax money generated by state-funded transportation projects exclusively for transportation.

Currently the money goes into the state general fund. The governor’s budget office said that during the 2009-11 budget, transportation-project sales taxes generated about $75 million annually for the state operating budget. There was a lot of construction going on during that period.

Senate Transportation Committee co-Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, said the sales-tax provision, among others, needed to be resolved for a tax package to move forward.

Asked if he thought it could be done in the special session, King said, “It’s going to be very difficult to get to that point … There’s too many elements to all of this that have to be discussed and agreed to.”

Clibborn said she thinks reaching agreement on a package within a week “is doable. It just depends on how much people want to do it. I think we’ve talked it to death.”

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