Some transportation votes close in Senate

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The state Capitol

Parts of a long-delayed Washington Senate transportation package will likely show up on the chamber's floor in a few days.

The question is how many of the sweeping package's 11 bills will actually go to a full Senate vote this week or next week?

At a Tuesday weekly press session, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said parts of the $15.1 billion, 16-year transportation package will be discussed in a Senate Rules Committee meeting Thursday. That’s a signal that those bills will likely go to a floor debate and vote soon afterward.

However, Schoesler declined to speculate on the most controversial bill -- installing an 11.7 cents-per-gallon gas tax hike while also putting in the so-called "poison pill." The poison pill would shift much of the package’s transit, pedestrian and bike-path money to work on roads if Gov. Jay Inslee installs low-carbon fuel standards.

That provision is a favorite of the GOP senators, who oppose Inslee’s push for low-carbon-fuels standards, arguing the standards would increase gas prices on top of the gas tax hike. Democrats vehemently oppose the poison pill, declaring it holds the low-carbon fuel standard hostage, while having no relationship to the transit money being threatened.

"While some see it as a poison pill, others see it as sensible handcuffs," said Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

A big question is how many of the GOP caucus' most conservative members will sign on to a gas tax hike. If the 26-member Majority Coalition Caucus of 25 Republicans and one Democrat has two or more of its people balking at the gas tax increase, then the GOP will have to negotiate with the 23 minority Democrats on the carbons standards provision. Schoesler declined to say if his caucus has 25 votes for this bill.

The House passed a transportation proposal in 2013, although it is revisiting it this session. One possibility is that the House would include an Inslee proposal to tax carbon emissions of the state's 130 top polluters to trim the gas tax increase. Republicans strongly oppose the carbon emissions tax.


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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 and on Twitter at @johnstang_8