The big question mark now in Olympia is the House's $10 billion transportation revenue package.
Will the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus scuttle it and just go home in protest of the 10.5-cents per-gallon gas tax increase it includes? Or will the coalition rejigger the House's proposal and send it back to the lower chamber in a compromise attempt?
Killing the bill would leave massive amounts of construction work undone. That's work that would boost jobs and make the business community happy — a constituency dear to the Republican-dominated coalition.
On Friday, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said he doubted that the majority coalition wants to deal with a transportation revenue package this session. "I never say 'never,'" he cautioned. "Right now, we've been focused on the operating budget. Whether there is an appetite to stay here a few days more [to hash out a transportation revenue compromise] ... I don't think it's there."
He said the Senate and House have not seriously discussed the transportation revenue situation in the past few days. With the House passing that bill Thursday, King said there is not enough time to analyze the House's package and work out a compromise.
King acknowledged the Senate is being pressured to pass a transportation package because of the jobs. However, he said the Legislature already allocated $5 billion for transportation construction as a job-creating economic boost in the past 3 1/2 years.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee wants a transportation revenue package passed, and is willing to keep the Legislature in session past Sunday to do so. Ted Sturdevant, Inslee's policy director, said the governor and Democrats have been discussing the matter with various majority coalition leaders and members over the past week. He contended Friday that enough majority coalition members want a transportation revenue package to pass to justify staying in session to reach a compromise.
Another escape valve for the majority coalition is that the House would need 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. That's 59 votes in a chamber that barely scraped up 51 for the revenue package. However, Sturdevant said a bonding bill is not needed in this session for the revenue package to go through, and that bonding can be tackled later. King disagreed with that stance, saying there is no guarantee that 59 votes will materialize in the House in a future legislative session.
On Friday, Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island and chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said she and King have discussed the major elements of the House's proposal for months. "There isn't a single thing we haven't talked about three times in depth," she said. The Legislature meets again today.
The normally tax-averse Association of Washington Business and the Washington Roundtable also voiced their support for the revenue package on Friday. As did the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Theoretically, the Legislature can stay in session during July to hash out a transportation revenue package, but the Senate can also decide simply not to have a transportation revenue package for 2013 and go home.
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 a 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.
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 Pierce County, Benton County and the Walla Walla area to persuade their Republican senators to vote for the $10 billion House package. The GOP had been hoping the revenue package would fail in the House in order to spare some Senate Republicans the "damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't" choice between backing a gas tax hike or fighting a jobs-related bill.
Also on Friday:
- The House and Senate passed a $33.486 billion operating budget for 2013-2015. Inslee plans to sign it by Sunday.
- Inslee signed his bill for stricter penalties and controls on drunk drivers, which unanimously passed the House and Senate earlier this week.
- The Senate unanimously passed an Inslee bill to improve water distribution from the snowpacks in the Yakima River basin, which is the environmentalist governor's first piece of proposed legislation from last February. The bill sends $23.6 million to modify reservoirs and install pipelines among the headwaters of the Yakima. The goal of the bill, which awaits a House vote, is to improve fish passages and more easily reroute water surpluses in specific reservoirs.
- A fish study dispute is still in limbo. It was temporarily part of the budget talks impasse before it became a separate issue Thursday. The Boeing Co. does not like upcoming changes in state regulations, which could lead to expensive upgrades in some of its facilities' discharge systems into surrounding waters. Boeing wants a study on the numbers and types of fish consumed in Washington, in addition to one reporting who caught the fish where. Boeing and the Senate want that study done before the new pollution discharge regulations go into effect. Inslee and the House Democrats have opposed the study, saying it will delay new pollution regulations designed to protect human health. One proposed compromise is the new regulations would go into effect as planned and the study would be started; the regulations would be revisited after the study results are known.
- The Senate and House passed some education reform bills that originated from the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus.