Finally, a Senate transportation plan, but where are the votes?

A new Senate transportation plan would even help education, supporters say. Democratic leaders have doubts.
Sen. Curtis King

Sen. Curtis King Photo: John Stang

State Rep. Judy Clibborn chairs the House transportation committee.

State Rep. Judy Clibborn chairs the House transportation committee. John Stang

A highway construction project.

A highway construction project. Ed Schipul/Flickr

The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus' new transportation package proposal has just 13 caucus votes behind it. Whether that number means better roads, bridges and transit for Washington residents is hard to calculate.

The 13 comes up short of a majority of the 24-Republican-two-Democrat caucus that controls the Washington Senate. That's just half of the caucus. Or 26 percent of the 49-member Senate.

When the majority coalition unveiled its new proposal Thursday, the Democratic reply was essentially: Come back when you have 25 votes —a majority of the Senate — behind it.

"Last I heard, 13 votes don't get you out of the Senate," said House lead transportation negotiator Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.

Flanked by seven coalition members, the group's lead transportation negotiator, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, announced the coalition's latest $12.29 billion proposal, which includes a 11.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike. The coalition's last public stance in 2013 called for a $12.3 billion package with an 11.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase. The House Democrats passed a transportation package — their official start point on negotiations  — in May 2013 at $10.5 billion with a 10.5 cent gas tax increase.

More than anything, though, the two stances differ drastically in the details.

The majority coalition argued that their new proposal makes significant progress toward the House Democrats' position. The House and Senate Democrats say it does not.

The biggest sticking point for House & Senate Democrats though, is that they don't want to negotiate against a proposal with only 13 votes behind it. Clibborn and lead Senate Democratic transportation negotiator Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, want a solid majority coalition position as a bill or as a locked-in package with 25 confirmed — and named — votes. "This is not a proposal done in good faith," Eide said.

Eide acknowledged that the 23 minority Democrats could negotiate a Senate transportation bill to match against the House bill with just Sen. King's 13 coalition supporters. That would allow them to come up with a bill that could pass without the support of the other 13 coalition members.

The majority coalition has a significant contingent that opposes all tax hikes. A question is how many of the King 13 would peel off if he made further concessions to the Democrats in upcoming talks. 

For the minority Senate Democrats to negotiate solely with the King 13, Eide said she would have to know the names of all 13. The eight coalition senators at King's press conference were King; Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina; Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond; Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island; Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn; Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville; Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane; and Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee. The first five senators can be safely pigeonholed as moderates in the majority coalition. Becker and Baumgartner are solid conservatives. Parlette is regarded as somewhere in between. The other five of the King 13 have not been made public.

The transportation package talks are almost 10 months old. Asked if the impasse could be resolved by the end of the current session, Tom said, "Absolutely." He said the majority coalition has reserved a room to restart the talks next Wednesday. Clibborn was unsure if she would be there because of the 13-vote issue. Eide said she would be present.

Looming over the Legislature is the fact that, if it does not reach a compromise by mid-March, the Washington State Department of Transportation will have to drastically cut and delay current projects.

If the impasse is not resolved by mid-March, the most-cited scenario says the talks would resume in December — after the November elections. That approach would keep a gas tax hike off the records of all incumbent legislators. King's proposal "is designed as something that we won't accept," charged Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle.

King said the majority coalition's new proposal is better than the House bill because it finishes major projects — such as the rebuilding of State Route 520 west of Lake Washington, an Interstate 90 upgrade on Snoqualmie Pass and the North Spokane highway corridor project — that the House version would not complete within 10 years. The coalition would also increase state patrol salaries.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Feb 14, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

I am against all gas tax hikes, period. These folks can't manage the money we give them, so no good reason to give them more to waste. Furthermore, why should we the taxpayers be charging ourselves and paying ourselves sales and use taxes on any public projects? I think this is just outrageous and should never ever happen again. It's an occult tax that I would guess few people even know about, and completely unjustified as just another way to sneak into our pocket and past our right to decide whether or not to tax ourselves for given projects. Wrong!

mspat

Posted Fri, Feb 14, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

I am for all gas tax hikes, period. It makes the fuel-intensive single private vehicle paradigm less seductive. We automotive-dependent taxpayers should be charging ourselves at the fuel pump for the public road projects that we use. Right!

woofer

Posted Fri, Feb 14, 3:03 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm thinking that we just need to do away with all taxes! I mean what-the heck - who do these politicians think they are - spending our collective money on roads and bridges, on-ramps, fixing potholes - from their spending spree you'd think everything would be perfect by now. Perfect!

What we need is to extend the user fee model to its upmost. Every road needs to be a toll road - no transit! Don't have a car? Too bad - use a bike - just don't get in my way!

Lily32

Posted Sat, Feb 15, 11:52 a.m. Inappropriate

The Senate Republicans are basically impotent on the issue of transportation if they cannot craft a plan that's supported by a majority of their own members and refuse to even consider alternatives that would be supported by a majority of the Senate when the Democrats are factored in.

Meanwhile, both parties in both chambers are failing to serve our state by clinging to an outdated 20th Century perspective. Continued reliance on gas taxes as the primary source of transportation revenue today makes as much sense as focusing on a horse-shoe tax would have made at the dawn of the last century.

Unfortunately, none of the public officials in charge of transportation policy at the state level have the vision or leadership to do anything more than mimic the actions of their predecessors: substitute one road project for another, and the number of pennies-per gallon being discussed, and the conversation is no different than transportation debates from decades ago.

Posted Sun, Feb 16, 6:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Stainless_Steel_Isnt: It is totally our fault.

We keep voting for unqualified people.

Then they get into office and appoint even more unqualified people.

How to fix this inertia?

Posted Sat, Feb 15, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

They should take it to the floor and vote, but they don't really want to do that. Going on record to vote to pay for things and then having to face their voters in red counties that get more tax dollars than they give, making things "free" to them, is just too much to ask for.

It has to be tough being in charge and having to lead for Curtis King, very hard.

Mr Baker

Posted Sat, Feb 15, 3:28 p.m. Inappropriate

What would be even harder is for Democrats in the Legislature and the Governors office to reach into the pockets of Taxpayers once again with their record of failure to solve any of the States Transportation problems they have created.

Cameron

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