Olympia this week: The transportation question

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Capital gains tax being debated under the Capitol Dome.

The big question this coming week is whether something will happen: Will the Washington Senate leadership put a transportation package to a vote?

Outside of the Senate chamber, the week in Olympia will be full of work tweaking bills. But the Senate has floor sessions scheduled for each morning this week. That means the GOP-controlled Senate has a chance to pass a bunch of bills and send them to the House.

The biggest chunk of potential legislation that might show up is a $15.1 billion transportation package with an 11.7-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike. Officially, that package, which includes 11 different bills, is a bipartisan compromise. In reality, Republicans and Democrats are far apart on several key points.

These include the so-called "poison pill." That’s a part of one bill that would shift much of the package’s transit, pedestrian and bike-path money to road projects if Gov. Jay Inslee installs low-carbon fuel standards. The fund-shifting provision is a favorite of the GOP senators, who oppose Inslee’s push for low-carbon-fuels standards. Democrats hate the poison pill provision.

Meanwhile, the two sides are still split on some labor-related parts of the transportation package favored by Republicans to trim some prevailing wage requirements on state roads projects. And the GOP wants to get rid of the sales tax on transportation construction materials, which would reduce money to the state’s general fund. The Democrats vehemently oppose that.

The upcoming week could tell the public whether the conservative wing of the GOP caucus will support an increase to the current 37.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax. If the conservatives support the gas tax, then the GOP's superior numbers can easily get the package through the Senate this week. But if the GOP conservatives oppose the gas tax hike within their caucus, then the Republican caucus will likely have to postpone floor action in order to negotiate with the minority Democratic caucus to pick up enough votes to pass the overall transportation package.

Then the package would go to the House to bump heads against a Democrat proposal that is still in the works. Democrats could choose to go with a gas tax hike to provide transportation money, but they might also opt for Inslee’s proposed tax on major carbon-emitting companies and institutions. Or they might decide on a combination of a smaller gas hike and an introduction of the carbon emissions tax as some level.


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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