OLYMPIA — The co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee on Monday suggested holding a special session next December — after the November election — to complete a transportation tax package.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, indicated it’s increasingly unlikely the Legislature will reach a deal during the current session, which ends March 13.
“There seems to be less of a will among everybody,” King
said. “Not just the (Republican-led Senate majority), but everybody. It’s going to be tough to do that in this session.”
Talks between the GOP-led Senate majority and Democrats, who control the House and governor’s office, broke down in December after multiple meetings.
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The two sides had been trying to reach agreement on a tax package that would increase the state gas tax by more than 10 cents a gallon and fund about $10 billion to $12 billion in transportation spending over the next 12 years, including the new Highway 520 bridge and improvements to Interstates 405 and 90.
Negotiators vowed to keep at it this session, but King said no formal talks have taken place since last year.
Democrats maintain Republicans must prove they have enough votes to pass a plan in the Senate before the House, Senate and governor’s office can restart talks.
“I’ve been pretty clear that I cannot make any huge movement. I’m done,” said House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.
“I can’t do anything unless they can show me what they have votes for. There’s got to be movement on the things that are the sticking points,” Clibborn said.
King said he hopes to present a transportation tax package to his caucus as early as Wednesday. But he was still doubtful about getting something through the Legislature this session.
“My only point in suggesting the special session after the election is that it gives us all of the interim for those who are willing to sit and work on it,” he said, adding that he hoped an agreement could be reached and then approved.
Holding a special session before the election isn’t realistic because “once you call a special session you automatically have to stop raising money (under state law) and that’s not going to make a lot of legislators happy,” King said.
David Postman, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, said it’s too early to be talking about a special session. “It would signal giving up here,” he said. “The governor is certainly not to that point.”
Republicans and Democrats have been unable to surmount disagreements over issues including stormwater treatment, sales taxes collected from transportation projects, and funding for public transportation.
One of the biggest involves how to spend sales-tax revenue from transportation projects. That money now goes into the state general fund, which pays for operating expenses including health care and education.
The Senate majority wants that slice of sales-tax revenue to be applied to transportation projects, estimating it could boost spending by $750 million over the next 12 years.
Democrats want the money to remain in the general fund, saying the state will need billions of dollars in coming years to meet a state Supreme Court mandate to increase funding for education.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or email@example.com