The Washington state House and the governor must keep the Senate’s transportation package moving.

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THE state Senate, after two years of frustrated effort, has passed a $15 billion transportation package. Its 11 measures — a mix of reforms and revenue — are key to relieving traffic congestion with investments in transit and roads and maintaining the state’s existing highways and bridges.

A bipartisan group of senators exercised some imagination to negotiate and shepherd this compromise, which includes an 11.7-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax, through their chamber. The deal could create an estimated 200,000 jobs over the next 16 years.

State House leaders must keep the momentum going. Having passed a package two years ago, they have been challenging their counterparts in the Senate to deliver. Now that a plan is before them, there is no reason to delay.

House Transportation Committee chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, expects to hold a hearing as early as the week of March 23 on the Senate bills in her committee, and has signaled she is ready to resume negotiations with all sides.

But House leadership has made a strategic decision to yoke transportation package negotiations to those for an education-focused operations budget, using the catchy but misguided phrase “kids before concrete.” This is a mistake because it endangers a critically needed transportation package.

And, it falsely implies that passing a transportation package somehow hurts children when, clearly, no lawmakers will be leaving Olympia until they satisfy the state Supreme Court’s order to put more money into public K-12 education.

Education and transportation are two separate issues, both important. Reasonable lawmakers are capable of dealing with them simultaneously.

Compromise is possible. For instance, last year, many Republicans refused to invest more state money into rural transit, bike paths, pedestrian walkways and vanpools. The Senate’s package includes money for those various modes of transportation, as well as authority for Pierce, King and Snohomish counties to ask voters to approve up to an $11 billion tax increase to expand light rail.

Among the sticking points is a provision that would divert funding from these multi-modal projects if Gov. Jay Inslee decides to enact low-carbon fuel standards. Last year, the threat of the governor unilaterally imposing a standard that would raise gas prices caused some Republican senators to balk at the prospect of also increasing the gas tax.

Many Democrats and environmentalists are objected to the current proposal, but without it Republican support for the package might well wane, jeopardizing the entire effort.

Inslee should put his dealmaker hat on and help lawmakers see this package through. He has said there are many ways for the state to reduce carbon emissions and meet its reduction goals.

One of the Republican-led measures that needs improvement was an amendment by state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, that would remove the sales tax on highway construction projects.

This also would eliminate funding to local cities and districts, which collect a portion of the tax. Lawmakers must fix this. State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, has wisely proposed exempting the sales tax only on new projects.

Hobbs and and fellow Democratic Sen. Marko Liias of Mukilteo, and their Republican counterparts Curtis King of Yakima and Joe Fain of Auburn should be commended for doing the heavylifting in negotiating this much-needed transporation package.

Now, the House and the governor must keep the transportation package moving.