OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders said Wednesday there will be no special session to pass a multibillion-dollar transportation package, but talks will continue during the regular session that starts in January.
Negotiators from both parties gathered in the governor’s office Wednesday for their 12th round of talks since the Legislature adjourned earlier this year, only to emerge after several hours to say no immediate deal was possible.
“Today it’s become clear that this particular phase of the process has run its course,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said during an impromptu news conference at his office. “The next step will be to continue this dialogue in the legislative process.”
Lawmakers said they’re closer on the issues that separate them, and indicated they’re more optimistic a deal can be reached during the regular session that starts Jan. 13
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“There was progress,” Inslee said. “There has been movement on a number of those issues. There just hasn’t been enough for consensus to be reached that could develop the votes in both chambers … The key to that lock has not been found yet.”
Negotiators would not get into details.
“What we are agreeable to is working on a package that hopefully we both can agree on, the House and the Senate,” said GOP Sen. Curtis King, co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “Whether we can find agreement in the 2014 session, I don’t have a crystal ball.”
The GOP-led majority in the Senate and the Democratic majority in the House have been trying to reach an 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 worth in transportation spending over the next 12 years, including the new Highway 520 bridge and improvements to Interstate 405 and Interstate 90.
Lawmakers have been under pressure from business and labor to make a deal. Boeing, always concerned about its ability to move people and products on the state’s highways, has indicated passage of a transportation package could factor into its decision about where to build the 777X.
Inslee had promised to call a special session before the end of the year if negotiators could reach agreement, and if they were sure they had the votes.
Negotiators say they’ve 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 disagreements 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 have said they want the money to remain in the general fund, noting the state will need billions of dollars in the coming years to meet a state Supreme Court mandate to increase funding for education.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org