State lawmakers must negotiate a transportation deal now.
STATE legislators are closer than they’ve been in years to reaching a deal to fix the state’s aging transportation infrastructure. They must not get bogged down by ideology and let slip this opportunity to create jobs and make roads safer.
The Senate already passed a package, including a gas-tax increase, with bipartisan support. Last month, the House Transportation Committee passed two key Senate bills, ESSB 5987 and ESSB 5988. Negotiations are under way to reconcile differences between the Senate and the House’s Democratic leadership.
Both plans include similar highway, bridge and pedestrian projects. Both raise about $15 billion over 16 years by gradually increasing the gas tax to 11.7 cents.
Lawmakers are close — and they must compromise.
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• The House plan gives Sound Transit authorization to ask voters for up to $15 billion to extend its light-rail system. The Senate plan authorized up to $11 billion. Legislators should just let the voters of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties decide this one because Sound Transit would have to make the case to its constituents.
• House Democrats want to continue using some sales-tax revenue collected from construction projects for the general fund, which helps pay for state operations, including education. The Senate would funnel that money back to transportation projects, which is where it should go. One way to break the impasse is to apply the sales tax only to new construction projects or delay the change a few years down the line to keep the money flowing to the general fund.
• The biggest rift has to do with a Senate Republican proposal to protect consumers and the rest of the economy from likely paying even more than the gas-tax hike if Gov. Jay Inslee decides to implement low-carbon fuels by executive order. If he does, the Senate bill would take money earmarked for the public-transit fund and put it into roads. The governor can work with the Legislature in other ways to execute his climate-change agenda.
After two previous sessions during which negotiations broke down, lawmakers must find consensus on an issue that impacts just about every resident, frustrated driver and business in the state.
lawmakers must find consensus on an issue that impacts just about every resident, frustrated driver and business in the state.”
At this point, legislators are searching for leverage as they also try to find funding for education and pass an operating budget.
Regardless of those challenges, a transportation deal should not fall through the cracks.