Senate leaders update transportation proposal

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) Senate majority leaders on Thursday unveiled an updated $12.3 billion transportation revenue package that includes an 11 1/2-cent gas tax increase, but they acknowledged that they don't yet have enough votes within their caucus to move forward this session unless a series of reform bills are passed first.

Senate Transportation Committee co-chairman Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, introduced the proposal on Thursday. He was joined by Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Democrat from Medina, and six others from the Majority Coalition Caucus, a predominantly Republican coalition in the Senate. King said that as of now, just 13 of the majority caucus' 26 members would vote for the proposal.

In addition to the gas-tax increase over the next three years, the plan also seeks to redirect sales-tax money from transportation projects to a transportation fund instead of the state's general fund.

"We've got to make a system that's more effective and more reliable and less costly," King said.

Lawmakers struggled all last year and ultimately failed to reach agreement on a transportation plan. The House passed a plan off its floor last year, but the Senate rejected efforts to bring up the package for a vote, with lawmakers there saying they wanted to see policy reforms first. Negotiations continued through the end of the year, and though they differed on the details, all sides were hoping for a roughly $10 billion deal that relied on increasing the state's gas tax by at least 10 cents a gallon.

Earlier this month, King had suggested that lawmakers might address transportation in a special session in December. But Tom said he believed it could be done before the current regular session ends on March 13.

"It's time to get this done now," he said.

The Senate proposal puts $6.5 billion toward road projects that include the North-South Freeway in Spokane and I-90 on Snoqualmie Pass, and would allocate $177 million toward an increase in salaries for troopers with the State Patrol. It also spends $365 million on transit, and puts $302 million toward bike paths and pedestrian walkways, according to documents released by the Senate.

"We've moved," King said. "We haven't just sat there and said no. We've tried to put forth a proposal that is not based on rhetoric or sound bites, but it's a proposal that's based upon the needs of the state of Washington."

Senate leaders say they are ready to resume negotiations on the issue with House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee, and have reserved a room in the Capitol so that negotiations could begin as early as next Wednesday.

Inslee spokesman David Postman said that they were going to look "at the substance of the proposal" and assess its viability in the Senate.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, issued a statement Thursday saying that the House would resume negotiations "once the Senate Majority has finished negotiations amongst itself."

"It is impossible to negotiate with a position that doesn't even have clear support from its backers," Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said in the written statement. "That is why the House passed its transportation package last year, and why we remain insistent that the Senate Majority either pass its proposal or provide a clear demonstration that it has enough votes to pass."