By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Leaders of the Senate majority came out with a transportation funding package Thursday they know they cannot pass without help from a lot of Democrats.
But not many Democrats were in the mood to do so, after skimming through the details and concluding it’s worse than what GOP lawmakers offered in negotiations before the session started.
The plan put forth by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, spends $12.3 billion on highways, bridges, buses and ferries and includes higher vehicle weight fees and an 11.5-cent gas tax increase to be imposed over the next three years.
King, one of the chairmen of the Senate Transportation Committee, also described eight reforms he says must be enacted to reassure the public the state is wisely managing their transportation tax dollars.
One of them would redirect sales-tax money paid on transportation projects into a transportation fund instead of feeding it into the state’s general fund. Another would take money from those set aside for toxic clean-up projects to pay for improvements to stormwater systems.
“If we think we can sell this (package) to the state of Washington without these reforms, I think it’s a mistake,” he said.
Agreement on a transportation package has eluded Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers for more than a year.
House Democrats last year passed a roughly $10 billion package with a 10-cent increase that didn’t receive a vote in the Senate. Inslee convened a dozen negotiating sessions involving House and Senate members in November and December with hopes rising that a deal could be reached early in the session.
Rather, the Senate majority has been unable to get any proposal endorsed by most of its caucus members. That remained the case Thursday.
King said if all the reforms pass, he can count on 13 of the 26 caucus members voting for it. That means he’d need votes from 12 Democrats to get it approved in the Senate and there may not be any right now.
“I really believe we are miles apart,” said Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way,
A key concern, he said, is Republicans want the sales-tax diversion to start this year rather than in 2017, as had been negotiated. That would eliminate money that’s already been budgeted for schools, health care and social service programs.
The difficulty encountered by King led him to suggest dealing with transportation in a special session in December. But Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who joined King in releasing the proposal, said he thought agreement could be reached before the regular session ends on March 13.
To that end, Senate leaders said they want to resume negotiations with Democrats in the House. Inslee and reserved a room in the Capitol for next Wednesday morning for talks.
Eide said she’ll attend.
“We want a package. You tell me where. You tell me when and I’ll be there,” she said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.