Senate Majority Coalition's $12.3 billion transportation package nixes I-90 tolls

A $12.3 billion transportation proposal introduced by the Washington State Senate Majority Coalition last weekend would effectively eliminate the need to toll I-90.

The plan was made public last Tuesday and would include full funding of the SR 520 floating bridge, money which would come from a gas tax hike of 11.5 cents and the cancellation of the Columbia River Crossing in Vancouver.

“I think what’s not immediately obvious to everyone is the fact that we have our own package, and we got it out,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, Chair of the House Transportation Committee. “Ever since the Senate Majority Coalition put theirs out, we’ve been working together.”

House Democrats put forth their own $10 billion funding package and passed it at the end of this year’s special session.

But the proposal screeched to a halt before the Republican-led Majority Senate Coalition earlier this year, in large part because the fiscally conservative lawmakers were opposed to the gas tax increases. Controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, it never came up for a vote.

The Senate package, which includes a tax hike of one cent more than the one put forward by the House, follows hearings convened in ten cities across the state in September and October, with testimony from 650 plus people.

“I wouldn’t say I agree with everything they have in there,” said Clibborn of the package.

“We have to reach an agreement between the Senate and the House, it has to be bipartisan, between Republicans and Democrats, which is a very difficult thing to do. But that’s what we’re working toward.”

Clibborn, who has herself called Mercer Island home since 1969, said that everyone has to be on board.  In order to fund SR 520, and eliminate tolling for I-90, she will need the votes on her side. One reform that will be closely examined is the Senate’s proposal to eliminate the sales tax on construction materials for state road projects, which would reduce money in the state general fund. The Senate also would require that stormwater-runoff projects be funded by the state’s hazardous-substance tax instead of gas-tax money. As a result, $1 billion from either practice would go toward road construction projects.

“The conversations we’ve been having behind the scenes is how to time this so the impact is not immediate. That doesn’t start coming out till construction starts and it takes a couple years to get construction going,” said Clibborn. “These are things that people on my side don’t know yet.”

The Senate proposal also asks to take a cap-and-trade law off the table, which would regulate carbon emissions. Faced with looming metro cuts, the package grants King and Snohomish counties the ability to fund transit with the authority to levy local taxes and pays for 51 projects like the freeway link between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma.

“You really can’t ram things down peoples’ throats,” said Clibborn, who says she plans to spend all this week negotiating, and on Wednesday will be briefing her caucus on how to make the package more palatable.

Gov. Inslee’s office has said he may call for a special session this week, when lawmakers are in Olympia to select committee chairs for the 2014 session.

“I would imagine we could get it done before next session starts, which I support,” explained Clibborn. “But we can’t get it done this week.”

She says that if legislators wait until its regular session, it’s not that passage will be undoable, but it would “be a long time and could easily get bogged down on either side...[Reaching] an agreement in a special session is very critical for making it happen.”


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