Transportation Revenue Package Fails House

By Rachel LaCorte, June 27, 2013, Seattle Times

A $10 billion transportation revenue package that included a 10½-cent increase in the gas tax was voted down by the state House Wednesday in a rare floor failure by the Democratic-controlled chamber.

The measure needed to receive at least 50 votes, but the vote fell just short at 48-42.

Democrats hold a 55-seat majority in the House, but several Democrats crossed party lines to vote against the measure: Reps. Brian Blake of Aberdeen, Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, Kathy Haigh of Shelton, Chris Hurst of Enumclaw, Marko Liias of Mukilteo, Monica Stonier of Vancouver, and Kevin Van de Wege of Sequim.

One Republican, Rep. Hans Zeiger of Puyallup, voted in favor of the funding package. Seven lawmakers were not present and did not vote on the measure, including one Democrat, Rep. Dean Takko of Longview, who is currently out of the country.

Liias, who spoke in favor of the measure on the floor, only changed his vote to a no once he realized they wouldn’t hit the 50 threshold. Members of the prevailing side in votes maintain the option of asking the chamber to reconsider it at a later time.

“We’re close,” Liias said. “We’re going to keep working on it. We need one vote.”

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said it’s possible the revenue package would have passed if Takko had been available.

“It’s easier if you have your full contingent,” he said.

Republicans who spoke against the measure during debate said that while there were several good projects in the package, they couldn’t sign off on its financing, which in addition to the gas-tax increase, included some increases on vehicle-weight fees, as well as local tax bond options. They expressed concern that not enough was being done to address the costs of the projects, and that taxpayers would bear the brunt of the Legislature’s actions.

“The taxpayers have had enough,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama. “The taxpayers can’t bear anymore.”

Under the proposal rejected Wednesday, the state gas tax would have increased by 6 cents on Aug. 1, with the remainder of the increase taking effect July 1, 2014.

It also would have allowed King County to put a car-tab tax increase on the fall ballot. The county has proposed an increase of $150 per $10,000 of vehicle value, to be split 60 percent to Metro Transit and 40 percent to maintain roads in cities and the unincorporated county.

The state package, which had already faced likely resistance in the Senate, included $3.2 billion for several state road projects, including Highway 167, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and a replacement I-5 bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon. It also included more than $1 billion for maintenance of highways and bridges.

The effort to replace the bridge connecting Portland with Vancouver has been a key sticking point in the predominantly Republican Senate, where several members are opposed to the Columbia River Crossing proposal in its current form. They say it is too low and should not include light-rail transit, and are concerned about costs.

Sung Yang, chief of staff for King County Executive Dow Constantine, said the county and its allies in business, labor and environmental groups haven’t given up yet on getting the bill revoted.

If Metro can’t collect new money, it is at risk of losing 17 percent of service hours during late 2014 and 2015, according to General Manager Kevin Desmond. That’s because a temporary $20 car-tab fee expires mid-2014, and contributions to bus service will no longer be paid from the state’s Highway 99 tunnel budget.

Desmond has said that Metro could avert major cuts if the Legislature acts by early 2014 — but that in the meantime the agency would start planning soon for possible cuts in 2014, a process that would consume staff time and cause distress among riders.

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington says it also will continue to press for a revote. The latest version of the bill includes $323 million for bike and pedestrian funding statewide, including several specific projects — $3.5 million for a pathway in downtown Port Orchard, a $1.5 million project in Hoquiam, $3 million toward a future Northgate Station pedestrian bridge crossing I-5 in Seattle, and $2 million for downtown Seattle separated bicycling lanes.

The package had been a priority for Gov. Jay Inslee, whose staff watched the vote from the House wings.

Inslee spokesman David Postman said that they would keep working the issue, and hope that it will come up for a vote again soon.

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