Another day passed Wednesday without a budget deal from the closed-door talks between the state Senate and House.
Meanwhile, the Democrat-versus-Republican deadlock in Olympia just got more complicated.
That's because the Washington House voted 48-42 in favor of the Democrats' $10 billion transportation revenue package Wednesday, but it needed 50 votes — a constitutional majority for a body with 98 seats — for the bill to pass. A gas tax increase appears to be the biggest stumbling block.
In a parliamentary maneuver, Rep. Mark Liias, D-Edmonds, switched his 49th "yes" vote to "no" at the last second.
That was so he could call for a revote — which he soon did — because he was on the "prevailing side" of Wednesday's vote, with the House's rules allowing that move. So, a new vote will be held today or Friday to try to pass the package, which includes a 10.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase. Washington's last gas tax increase was in 2005.
"We need one vote. We now know who those folks are. ... Folks were moving around. It's a tough vote," Liias said about learning which unknown votes supported the package and which opposed it Wednesday.
The voting math broke down like this. Democrats have 54 of their 55 members in Olympia with the 55th, Dean Takko of Longview in Asia at the moment. The Republicans lost one of their 43 members when Steve O'Ban of rural Pierce County, was appointed to the Senate to replaced Mike Carrell of Lakewood, who recently died. Six Republicans were absent Wednesday, leaving a 54-36 split by party.
But six Democrats voted against the package. They were Reps. Brian Blake of Aberdeen, Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, Kathy Haigh of Shelton, Chris Hurst of Enumclaw, Monica Stonier of Vancouver and Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim.
One Republican — Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup — voted for it. Democrats hoped a handful of Republicans would cross the aisle on this matter. But those potential Republican voters recently received heavy lobbying from their leaders, said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island and chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.
Republicans did not like the gas tax hike and the $10 billion size, plus they said they don't trust the Washington Department of Transportation to manage projects well.
"I see a package that spends too much on projects and not enough on maintenance. ... You can't change the system today if you keep feeding the beast," said Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis. Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, criticized the bill for calling for workers on the transportation projects to be paid prevailing wages, saying that accounts for $3 billion of the $10 billion package.
The package calls for a 6 cents a gallon gas tax increase to the current rate of 38 cents on Aug. 1, and another 4.5 cents hike on July 1, 2014. The House package also calls for replacing the Portland-Vancouver bridge over the Columbia River and extending State Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma. It call for widening State Route 12 near Walla Walla and setting up a highway interchange in Benton County's Red Mountain wine country — both overwhelmingly Republican areas. The House Democrats are gambling that the those projects plus the State Route 167 extension will prompt those area's constituents to persuade their Republican representatives and senators to vote for the $10 billion House package.
And, if conventional political assumptions are right, House Speaker Frank Chopp has also calculated that getting a few Republican votes will allow him to spare some of the vulnerable Democrats in tightly balanced districts from having to cast politically risky votes for a gas tax. Over the years, political observers have repeatedly noticed a similr pattern for in the Chopp-led House, although the brinksmanship around a possible government shutdown has rarely if ever been so dramatic. Chopp, who prefers to wield power behind the scenes, never talks publicly about the strategy, though occasionally a ranking Democrat will.
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