By Mike Baker Associated Press
SEATTLE — Washington political leaders are locked in lengthy negotiations this week as they struggle to develop an agreement to spend billions of dollars on transportation projects.
After a five-hour-long negotiating session on Monday, lawmakers returned to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office Tuesday afternoon to continue talks. Inslee is hoping that an agreement can be in place before the end of the year.
“We’re close enough that we can get this done,” said Jaime Smith, an Inslee spokeswoman.
Lawmakers have been struggling all year to reach agreement on a transportation plan. Inslee first wanted one when the Legislature was in session earlier this year, but the Senate declined to take it up for a vote.
Last month, he sought an agreement when lawmakers held a special session to approve tax breaks for Boeing. And Inslee pressed for a deal before the Apple Cup football game, which took place last week.
There are a variety of moving components in the negotiations, but all sides are looking at a deal valued at roughly $10 billion and relying on a large increase in the state’s gas tax — perhaps more than 10 cents per gallon.
The House and Senate differ on how to handle issues such as transit funding and how to handle money dedicated for cleanup projects, Smith said. The Senate has also proposed to redirect sales tax money from transportation projects to a transportation fund instead of the general fund.
While lawmakers are already scheduled to return to Olympia a little more than a month from now, Smith said the goal is to approve the transportation deal by the end of the year. In part, she said, Inslee wants the transportation package in order to better make a case that Boeing should build its new 777X line here.
Boeing has said it would like to see transportation infrastructure improvements. The company is currently soliciting bids from around the country on where it should build the 777X plane.