$570 million for Snohomish County in Senate transportation bill

OLYMPIA — A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday released a $15.1 billion transportation package that ends a nearly two-year stalemate in the chamber and a stare down with the governor.

The much-anticipated proposal spans 16 years and would raise the money primarily with an 11.7 cent increase in the gas tax, eschewing Gov. Jay Inslee’s call for using a new fee on carbon emissions to pay for road improvements.

The Senate proposal spends $8.2 billion on maintaining existing roads, undertaking roughly 100 new projects around the state, building a new 144-car ferry and adding bus services for commuters and the disabled.

Big chunks go to mega- projects such as completing the Highway 520 floating bridge and widening the entire length of I-405.

It includes nearly $570 million for projects in Snohomish County — far more than the $82.8 million the governor set aside in his transportation package that came out in December.

The Senate plan includes $145 million for building a new bridge on Highway 9 over the Snohomish River, $70.8 million for a new freeway interchange at the south end of Marysville and $17 million for safety improvements on Highway 2.

Money also is earmarked for an offramp on Highway 526 at Hardeson Road near the Boeing Co. complex, for improving the intersection of Highway 9 and State Route 204 in Lake Stevens, and for expansion of the bus rapid transit service offered by Community Transit and Everett Transit.

The proposal would enable Sound Transit and Community Transit to ask voters for more money to expand service. And it would make reforms throughout the process of designing, permitting and building transportation projects.

“This package will put people to work, get people to work and help our Washington Department of Transportation work better,” said Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, chairman of the transportation panel, sounded triumphant as he proclaimed the proposal “will deal with our transportation needs for the next 16 years.”

Democratic Sens. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens and Marko Liias of Lynnwood joined the Republicans at the news conference where the plan was made public. They made clear the proposal had been heavily negotiated with Democrats.

“It’s been a three-year journey,” said Hobbs, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “This package moves Washington forward and will drive our economy for years to come.”

Negotiations aren’t over, as there are parts with which they still disagree. “This is a good first step,” Liias said.

The proposal would boost the state’s gas tax from 37.5 cents today to 49.2 cents in mid-2017. There would be increases of a nickel July 1, 4.2 cents July 1, 2016, and 2.5 cents a year later.

Money also is raised by hiking the weight fees of passenger cars and trucks, and bumping up the cost of certain driver’s licenses. A new $5 charge on the sale of each studded tire is also proposed.

As expected, the package reflected Republicans’ distaste for Inslee’s signature climate-change initiatives.

They never seriously considered using Inslee’s cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions as a source of revenue. And they crafted language to ward off a low carbon fuel standard – a rule requiring production of fuels including gasoline with lower levels.

The bill says if the governor ”adopts, orders or otherwise implements any fuel standard, or sets carbon reduction requirements,” then $750 million earmarked for transit and multi-modal programs would be immediately redirected to road projects.

Republican senators said the package hinges on passage of reforms to reduce use of union apprentices on road projects and require an outsider to manage ferry building contracts. Other changes include streamlining the permit and environmental review process and spending toxic clean up money on removing fish passage barriers.

Another reform would retain sales tax paid on transportation projects for transportation uses. Today those dollars go into the general fund to pay for day-to-day operations of government. Republicans estimate changing that will generate $945 million for the transportation package.

Many Democrats dislike the sales tax shift and the changes regarding the use of apprentice labor.

Thursday’s release marks a triumph for the Senate, where the Republican majority failed to produce any kind of proposal the past two years. The GOP didn’t even consider what the House approved in 2013.

Inslee, who’s called for enacting a transportation package since taking office, has been persistent in his pressure on the GOP to act. And since the end of the 2014 session, business leaders stepped up their lobbying.

On Thursday, Inslee issued a statement applauding the plan’s release while noting potential areas of disagreement.

“Overall, I believe the Senate has put forward a strong start,” he said. “I appreciate that it funds safety and maintenance, completes projects, authorizes light rail, and invests in multimodal like transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects.

“We need to look carefully at the total amount of sales tax proposed to be moved from the operating budget, changes to worker wages, and the connection to a clean fuel standard,” he said. “Under the Senate plan, if Washington adopts a low carbon fuel standard to reduce emissions, we lose transit funding.”

Overall, the package is made up of 11 different bills, eight dealing with reforms and three with raising the revenue and approving the sale of bonds to finance the projects.

Hearings on each will be held starting Tuesday or Wednesday. No date’s been set for voting on the package.

Details on the package can be found on the Senate Transportation Committee website at http://tinyurl.com/qdfss44.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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