Much work remains on transportation package

OLYMPIA — Another morning of negotiations on a multibillion-dollar transportation package ended Friday without an agreement.

But House and Senate transportation leaders left their two-hour meeting in the governor’s office with something close to smiles on their faces.

“I think we’re making some progress,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, who is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee.

There’s no imminent agreement and participants ruled out reaching one by next week when all lawmakers will be in Olympia for their annual committee days. Their next negotiating session is set for Tuesday.

“Ideologically we’re closer,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, who is chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee. “Physically, there’s a lot of paperwork to move.”

Gov. Jay Inslee is pressing lawmakers to get a deal done by the time the University of Washington and Washington State University football teams square off in the Apple Cup on Nov. 29.

He turned up the pressure Wednesday night following the Machinists’ vote that catapulted Washington into competition with other states to land the Boeing Co.’s prized 777X program. A transportation package will enhance the state’s competitiveness, he said.

“The events of tonight should sharpen people’s focus. I hope that it will,” Inslee said after the union rejected a concession-filled contract extension that would have secured assembling of the new passenger jetliner in the state.

Lawmakers said they understand the urgency. Inasmuch as they’ve wrestled over a roads package through a regular session and two special sessions, no one is ready to rush too fast to the finish line.

“I don’t think we will vote by the Apple Cup,” said Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, a vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “Could we have an agreement by then? Sure. But it will take time to write up the multitude of bills needed to implement all the pieces.”

For months, the focus has been on the plan put forth by House Democrats to spend roughly $10 billion over the next dozen years and its 10-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax.

Earlier this week, the Majority Coalition Caucus of the Senate upped the ante with a proposed $12.3 billion package with a gas tax increase of 11.5 cents.

Clibborn said Friday she’s yet to hear anyone howling about the GOP desire to spend more and boost the gas tax higher.

That may be because the Republican offering does things the Democrat proposal does not.

For example, Republicans allocate $1 billion more for a new floating bridge on Highway 520. That is enough to pay the full cost and avoid tolling on Interstate 90. Democrats pay a fraction of the bridge cost and cover the rest with toll revenues.

Of more concern to Democrats right now are reforms sought by the GOP. One particular stickler is a desire to divert sales tax receipts on road projects away from the general fund where they now go and into the transportation budget.

Republicans estimate this would bring in $690 million. Democrats object because they say those dollars will come out of the pot used to pay for education, health care and social service programs.

While negotiations may not focus much yet on where the money gets spent, that is a key for cities, counties and transit districts.

The House and Senate proposals both fund a number of projects in Snohomish County. Among them a new Highway 9 bridge over the Snohomish River, interchanges at Hardeson Road on Highway 526 in Everett and at I-5 and 116th Street in Marysville, and safety improvements on Highway 2.

Community Transit got a pleasant surprise when it learned the Senate plan mirrors the House by clearing the way for the district to seek voter approval of a sales tax hike.

“It is good news that this proposal contains a local option that would allow Snohomish County residents to decide if they would like to fund additional transit service in our community,” said transit district spokesman Martin Munguia. “Our neighbors value transit, and the local option leaves open the possibility of adding significant new transit service.”

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

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