Senate Democrat floats a transportation compromise
by John Stang
Sen. Steve Hobbs Credit: John Stang
Trying to resolve a 10-month impasse on a transportation package, state Sen. Steve Hobbs pitched an alternative plan to Gov. Jay Inslee and legislative leaders on Friday. He presented it as some ideas for the two sides to consider and expand upon. However, one major plank of Hobbs’ plan is a "no-go” for his fellow Senate Democrats and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.
Currently, the Majority Coalition is deadlocked with the House and Senate Democrats on details of a multi-billion-dollar package to tackle the states' highways, bridges and ferry matters during the next 10 years. The sides are far apart and show no sign of budging.
The Majority Coalition's proposal calls for $12.3 billion in work partly paid with an 11.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike. The coalition wants to get rid of the sales-and-use tax on transportation construction materials, which would reduce money to the state's general fund. The majority coalition also wants to shift the funding of stormwater-runoff projects from gas-tax revenue to a state Ecology Department hazardous substances tax. Democrats oppose the two budget shifts. They propose a $10.5 billion package with a 10.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike with fewer projects than the Senatat coalition's plan.
Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, is a vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and for weeks has been pondering alternative ideas to send to both sides. He has bounced ideas off several legislators from both parties. He sent emails with his proposal to Inslee and caucus leaders on Friday.
"This package does not constitute an offer by any caucus … I crafted this plan to show that the potential for compromise exists on all sides — that includes policy and funding issues. In other words, all stakeholder groups will have aspects they like and those they don't, but that, after all, is the nature of compromise," Hobbs wrote.
Hobbs' package covers roughly $12 billion with some small projects trimmed from the Majority Coalition's list. It calls for an 11.75-cents per gallon gas tax hike phased in over several years, with increases of 4.25 cents in 2015, 4 cents in 2016 and 3.5 cents in 2017. It somewhat splits the difference on the two funding-shift impasses. Existing transportation projects would still pay sales tax, but new projects would not — shifting $480 million from the general fund. Meanwhile, only $40 million out of more than $200 million in targeted Ecology funding would be shifted. Hobbs' plan calls for $837 million for transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects, more than the Majority Coalition's stance.
The two Senate lead transportation negotiators — Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way — said neither caucus would go along with a proposed compromise on the sales tax on transportation construction materials. King said the Majority Coalition wants at least $720 million covered by the proposed move. Eide said many Senate Democrats want to keep the entire tax intact to build up the general fund for massive school improvements from 2015 to 2019 required by a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling.
Other items in Hobbs' package will need more study, both said, since they saw it for the first time Friday.
If the transportation budget impasse is not resolved in the near future, Washington's transportation maintenance and ferry service will be severely slashed.
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