Updated: Senate in no hurry to pass House transportation package

State representatives in the House voted a transportation package through today. The bill's going to need a lot more momentum, though to move itself through the Senate.
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Will lawmakers ever arrive at a smart solution to our transportation problems?

State representatives in the House voted a transportation package through today. The bill's going to need a lot more momentum, though to move itself through the Senate.

Two House Democrats switched their "no" votes to "yes" to resurrect and pass Wednesday's failed $10 billion transportation revenue package with a 10.5-cent per-gallon gas tax increase. That sends this political hot potato to the Senate.

"When we think about the competiviness of the state, we need this to stay ahead of the game," said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island and chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.

The House still has to pass a bill to seek bonds to pay for the projects — legislation that legally needs 60 percent of the chamber's votes to pass.

Meanwhile, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, did not show much interest in negotiating with the House until the bond bill is passed.

Theoretically, the Legislature can stay in session during July to hash out a transportation revenue package, but the Senate can also decide simply not have a transportation revenue package for 2013 and go home without one. King said the majority coalition has a wide range of different opinions on that subject.

"The reason we're here is not to pass a transportation budget. The reason we're here is to pass an operating budget," King said.

"There is a good deal of effort in this bill for the last 20 hours or so. ... It doesn't seem the appropriate time for parliamentary games," said Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm and the House minority floor leader.

Two House Democrats — Brian Blake of Aberdeen and Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim — switched their votes against the package, along with Democrat Marko Liias of Mukilteo. The trio's switched votes helped it pass the House Thursday. 

There are several sticking points for Republicans in the passed transportation package. Besides the gas tax increase, the replacement of the Portland-Vancouver bridge over the Columbia River is another major point of contention in the Senate. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — with a 25-24 voting advantage — has been vehemently against that project. Democrats in both chambers support it.

"I think there will be many major sticking points [in the talks with the Senate]," Clibborn said.

The revenue package would also pay for extending State Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma and call for the widening of State Route 12 near Walla Walla and the creation of a highway interchange in Benton County's Red Mountain wine country. Both of the latter are overwhelmingly Republican areas.

House Democrats are gambling that those projects plus the State Route 167 extension will prompt constituents in Benton County and the Walla Walla area to persuade their Republican senators to vote for the $10 billion House package.

Editor's Note: This article has been revised to reflect that Marko Liias is a member of the Democratic Party.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8