Politics & Government

Legislature’s Democrats, Republicans agree on gas tax increase, at odds on details

Democrats who control the state House agree on something with Republicans who run the Senate: Washington should raise the gas tax by 11.7 cents per gallon to pay for transportation projects.

“There’s just so much pent-up need on the public’s mind,” Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, said while outlining a House proposal to reporters Monday. “They want us to do our jobs: try to improve the congestion in this state.”

The release of the House’s plan confirmed that leaders of both chambers of the Legislature have now officially cast aside Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s suggestion of funding transportation with charges on greenhouse gas emissions.

But the new proposal did little to remove sticking points between the parties, which could start negotiating as early as Wednesday.

The House doesn’t want to tie Inslee’s hands in creating a green fuel standard for vehicles, as a Senate-passed plan would do.

The Senate also wants to free up money for transportation projects by exempting them from sales taxes, and by grabbing money earmarked for cleanup of hazardous waste.

The House omitted both of those shifts, finding money instead by assuming savings of at least 20 percent on projects because of an ongoing Department of Transportation effort to scale back project designs to what is minimally needed.

House Democrats would give Sound Transit the $15 billion authority the agency has requested to raise property, sales and car-tab taxes to extend light rail to Tacoma and other destinations, while Senate Republicans want to give authority to raise about three-quarters of the money requested.

In the South Sound, the House plan calls for widening a stretch of Interstate 5 alongside Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but would provide less money than the Senate has proposed. Fey said the House plan mainly differs by assuming more federal money and a later date of completion.

And while both chambers would build an extension of state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma, the Senate plan calls for a four-lane highway, while Fey said the House concept includes a two-lane stretch and a four-lane stretch.

House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said she is ready to negotiate a deal before lawmakers’ 105-day regular session ends April 26 but believes Democrats would be willing to go into special session if necessary to pass a transportation tax plan.

“We’re going to get to negotiations as quickly as possible” without Democrats first pushing their own plan all the way through the House, Clibborn said. “We know that it will not look the way it goes out of either body. It will be something that we agree on, but it will be bipartisan.”