Jordan Schrader, February 13, 2015, The News Tribune
An 11.7-cent gasoline-tax increase proposed Thursday is just the latest Washington transportation plan to raise hopes for new highway work, but this one starts with more bipartisan momentum than others have.
It’s also the first plan to fully fund the widening of Interstate 5 at a 4-mile choke point alongside Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Republican and Democratic negotiators in the Senate rejected Gov. Jay Inslee’s call to raise money from large emitters of greenhouse gases instead of directly from drivers.
Instead, their nearly $15 billion spending plan includes a higher gasoline tax that funds highway projects ranging from the small — on Thurston County’s Yelm Loop and Marvin Road — to the large, such as a four-lane extension of state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma that could cost as much as $1 billion.
“This significant step moves us closer to ensuring more jobs in our state,” Tom Pierson, CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, said in a statement.
But enough points of contention remain that it’s not clear whether the plan has enough votes for approval in the GOP-majority Senate, let alone the Democrat-controlled House and Governor’s Office. Among them:
- The fate of the main revenue bill is tied to a pending decision by Inslee on whether to set a standard for carbon emissions from fuel. If Inslee goes through with it, the Senate plan would starve the mass transit projects it now proposes to fund, such as bus service for Parkland and Spanaway.
- The package would let Sound Transit ask voters to fund light-rail expansion and other transit projects by raising their property taxes, sales taxes and motor-vehicle excise taxes – but car tabs and property tax rates would not be allowed to rise as much as Sound Transit wants.
- Instead of charging sales tax on the new projects and using the proceeds for schools, human services and other general needs, that revenue would be returned to the highway projects. Inslee has offered to accept a similar change as a compromise.
- A number of public-works rules dear to unions would be altered, including the share of project work required to be done by apprentices and the scope of who must be paid an area’s prevailing wage.
“I don’t think the four of us would be standing here if we didn’t feel confident that we could muster enough votes,” said Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, flanked by fellow Republican Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn and Democratic Sens. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens and Marko Liias of Lynnwood. King leads the Senate Transportation Committee that will now hold hearings.
Among those declaring opposition to the plan was Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, who said it would fund transportation at the expense of the environment.
Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, said Republicans are wrong to deprive commuters and bus riders of better quality of life “just because you don’t like the idea of (fighting) climate change.”
Nor are all Republicans on board, despite applause from business groups.
Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, was one of the first to oppose it for raising what is already one of the nation’s highest gas taxes at 37 1/2 cents.
Supporters said some opposition is to be expected.
“If both sides are being hurt by this a little bit, they’re swallowing some policy they don’t like,” Hobbs said, “it’s probably a good bill.”