By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — House Democrats aren’t giving up on raising billions of dollars for transportation with a gas tax hike but are running out of time to get it done before the legislative session ends.
On Tuesday, the leader of the House Transportation Committee released an $8.4 billion package of improvements funded with a 10-cent boost in the gas tax over four years plus higher vehicle registration fees and bonds.
Snohomish County stands to receive $204 million worth of projects of which $109 million is for building a second bridge over the Snohomish River on Highway 9. There’s also $15 million of Highway 2 safety improvements and $42 million for a new I-5 interchange at 116th Street in Marysville.
But it’s far from certain the plan cobbled together by Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, the committee chairwoman, can pass in the House then the Senate before the conclusion of the session April 28.
Lawmakers from several counties, including Snohomish, want more projects from their regions funded before they’ll commit their vote.
“We, the Snohomish County transportation members, are working to up the level of projects in the revenue package that cover Snohomish County,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett. “It has been an on-going process.”
Clibborn acknowledged Tuesday she’s open to adding and subtracting items as she assembles enough votes for passage. “This is not cast in cement,” Clibborn said.
In the meantime, the combination of a gas tax hike and inclusion of $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing may doom it with the Senate Majority Coalition.
That sum is considered necessary to secure $1.2 billion in matching federal funds. But federal dollars are conditioned on Washington endorsing light rail on the new span and that is strongly opposed by coalition members. Moreover, the coalition wants the crossing redesigned and an audit conducted of the funds spent to date on the project.
“From my standpoint the funding for the CRC needs to be out of the proposal,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, a co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
He said he didn’t want to speak for the other 24 members of the coalition, some of whom are on record endorsing a transportation revenue package this year.
“We just have to look and see what ends up coming out of the House,” he said. “My opinion is this is not the year to be asking the public for a 10-cent gas tax increase.”
Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, the other co-chair of the committee, said it’s too soon to predict failure for the effort.
“To be honest with you, I think it’s doable,” she said. “Give (Clibborn) a chance. She’s been working on it. This is the first step in the process. We’ll kind of check it day-by-day.”
Clibborn scheduled a hearing on the package for Friday making it possible for a vote in the House as early as Saturday.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.