Politics & Government

Senate spins wheels over transportation tax

A package of legislation introduced Monday in the Senate finally put a transportation tax plan in bill form.

But with just 10 days left in the 60-day session, negotiations appear to still be stuck. Democrats appeared no warmer to this Republican proposal than the last one.

Lawmakers are hung up more about process than the substance of the Republican plan to raise the gasoline tax by 111/2 cents to fund projects such as a state Route 167 extension while making fund shifts and policy changes.

The bill represents an offer that Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, Senate Republican leader on transportation, made to his Democratic counterpart Sen. Tracey Eide of Des Moines on Feb. 21.

King said in an interview that it makes major concessions to Democrats compared with his offer a week earlier, while the other side hasn’t budged.

“It is my hope that we will have a public hearing in the near future on this new package and the important reform bills that have been a priority for our caucus,” King said in a statement.

Eide, who has been pushing for a gasoline tax increase, demanded that King first prove that a majority of his 26-member majority caucus would vote for it.

She wants to be assured that both sides will pitch in to pass the package.

She said she was disappointed that the only two lawmakers signed on to the bill were King and Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, the breakaway Democrat who leads the mostly Republican caucus.

“The agreement was that they would have 14 names on the pink sheet, but he dropped a bill with two names on it,” Eide said in a statement. “That’s a far cry from 14.”

King said there was no such deal. “I told them I wasn’t going to give them the names until I had an agreement,” he said.

“That hasn’t changed. I’m not going to hang my people out if (Democrats) don’t want to continue to negotiate.”

But he did say he believes he still has at least 13 votes of support, half of his caucus.

King’s latest proposal would add more money for mass transit sought by Democrats.

While it would still shift sales tax revenue on highway projects from the state’s general fund to transportation, something Democrats oppose as raiding money from education and social services, it wouldn’t make the shift until 2019.

Eide has been blocking Republican policy measures until they have an agreement on a revenue package.

She said that’s not what’s holding up a deal.

“Rodney Tom and the Republicans don’t have an Eide problem, they have a policy problem,” she said. “Their proposal is so unpopular, they can’t even get a majority of their caucus behind it,” she said.