House OKs $10B road revenue bill, gas tax increase

OLYMPIA — A day after it was voted down, a $10 billion transportation revenue package that includes a 10 1/2-cent increase in the gas tax was approved Thursday by the state House.

The measure passed on a 51-41 vote and now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to face resistance. On Wednesday, the measure had failed to receive the required 50 votes, a rare bill failure in the Democratic-controlled House.

Three Democrats who had voted against the measure Wednesday now voted for it: Reps. Brian Blake of Aberdeen, Kevin Van de Wege of Sequim and Marko Liias of Mukilteo. Liias had only voted no initially for procedural purposes, so that he could bring the measure back for a revote Thursday. Members of the prevailing side in a vote maintain the option of asking the chamber to reconsider it at a later time.

Liias warned his colleagues that other states, like South Carolina, could benefit if Washington state failed to take action to improve its transportation infrastructure.

“Inaction is a loss of competitiveness,” he said.

Under the measure, the state gas tax would increase by 6 cents per gallon on Aug. 1, with the remainder of the increase taking effect July 1, 2014.

The package includes $3.2 billion for several state road projects, including State Route 167, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and a replacement bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon. It also includes more than $1 billion for maintenance of highways and bridges.

The effort to replace the bridge connecting Portland with Vancouver, Wash., has been a key sticking point in the predominantly Republican Senate, where several members are opposed to the Columbia River Crossing proposal in its current form. Opponents say the proposed bridge is too low and should not include light rail transit, and they are concerned about costs.

Blake said he changed his vote because he wanted to keep the bill alive in hopes that he can get some projects in his district funded. He said he wanted the package sent over to the Senate “so we could discuss a final bill.”

“I think that’s important, that we bounce something over and see if they’ll meet us,” he said.

Democrats hold a 55-seat majority in the House. Several Democrats voted against the measure Thursday: Reps. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, Kathy Haigh of Shelton, Chris Hurst of Enumclaw and Monica Stonier of Vancouver. Rep. Hans Zeiger of Puyallup was the lone Republican to vote in favor of the funding package.

Republicans who spoke against the measure during debate said that nothing had changed over the past day to allay their concerns over the financing of the package, or lack of reforms they had wanted to see to address project costs.

“The public continues to say no to this package. I continue to say no to this package. And this house chamber should continue to say no to this package,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.

The overall package has been a priority for Gov. Jay Inslee, who watched the vote from the House wings and thanked several lawmakers in the House Democratic wings after the measure passed.

“A good first step,” Inslee told House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn in the wings outside the vote. Clibborn, D-Mercer Island responded “we’ve got one more to go.”

That next step may be a steep one. Members of the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate, which comprises 23 Republicans and two Democrats, seemed doubtful the package could succeed in that chamber.

“I don’t think it has a chance here,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who is a member of the coalition. “People are very concerned about the costs of these projects.”

Clibborn acknowledged there will be many major sticking points, and said “nothing was on or off the table.”

“We know that there will be things that neither side will like, but no one thing should be able to take the package down,” she said.

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The transportation revenue bill is House Bill 1954.

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Follow Rachel La Corte at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly or http://www.facebook.com/news.rachel

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Online:

Washington state Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov

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