Special session takes ‘nice first step’

OLYMPIA — A special session of the Legislature began Monday with talk of an agreement that could clear a path for a plan to raise billions of dollars for transportation.

The Democratic chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee said there is no deal on how much money to raise, where to spend it or if voters should be given the final say.

But Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said her Republican counterpart in the Senate has agreed this is the year to try to answer those questions and move a package forward.

That is significant for Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, who voiced opposition throughout the regular session, she said.

“Up until now he’s been saying ‘no,’” Clibborn said. “Nothing’s been agreed to other than this is the year to try to do it. It was a nice first step.”

King, meanwhile, implied Clibborn might be overstating his willingness to help advance the plan since he’s personally not on board with the idea.

“I told her I would consider it this year if that’s what my caucus tells me,” he said Monday. “I didn’t rule it out. I didn’t say it couldn’t happen this year. I didn’t say it would happen this year.”

House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee want to raise $8.4 billion for new bridges, ferries, wider highways and expanded bus service primarily from a 10-cent hike in the gas tax and higher fees tied to vehicle registration.

Opposition from King and the Republican-dominated Senate effectively bottled it up during the regular session.

Clibborn and Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, met with King in Yakima last week to discuss the issue. Eide co-chairs the Senate Transportation Committee with King.

Eide said King “didn’t close the door” and wants to talk about all the options in the special session which could last up to 30 days.

“He didn’t say ‘no.’ We did hear ‘no’ in the regular session,” Eide said. “He has moved considerably.”

The news on transportation highlighted an otherwise uneventful opening day of special session marked by party caucuses, press conferences and closed-door budget negotiations in the late afternoon.

Budgets passed in the House and Senate are separated by roughly $1.2 billion, which is the amount of additional money House Democrats want to bring in though ending tax preferences and continuing a business tax set to expire in June.

On the first day, the House and Senate each met briefly to pass procedural measures required for the start of the extra session.

House Democrats met behind closed doors in the morning, disbanding at lunch for the day. Only leaders of the Republican caucus showed up as most of their members stayed home and waited to be summoned when votes are to be taken.

“Over the course of the next couple weeks is when we start getting down to negotiating on the budget,” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish.

In the Senate, both parties met privately in the afternoon.

And leaders of the Senate Majority Coalition also sat down with reporters to reiterate they intend to fight the House tax proposal and push for a number of education and government reforms.

“We think we did what the public sent us down here to do,” said Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, one of two Democratic members of the coalition.

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

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