OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A $16.1 billion transportation revenue bill that includes an 11.9-cent increase in the gas tax over the next two years passed the Legislature early Wednesday, though the House still must approve key accompanying bills.
A dispute between Senate Democrats and Republicans over unrelated bills led to a hourslong overnight delay in the vote. Senators returned to the floor around dawn to vote on changes made in the House, passing the bipartisan compromise revenue bill on a 37-8 vote and sending it to the governor.
To complete the package, the House still needs to pass a Senate-approved bonding bill and spending bill, which designates the money to specific projects.
Republican Sen. Curtis King, the chamber’s Transportation Committee chairman, said the infrastructure improvements and jobs that will come from the projects are “vitally important to the state.”
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“I think the economic significance to the state of Washington is absolutely phenomenal,” King said.
The transportation plan would increase the gas tax in two stages: a 7-cent increase on Aug. 1 and a 4.9-cent increase on July 1, 2016.
The plan spends $8.8 billion on state and local road projects and $1.4 billion on maintenance and preservation. An additional $1 billion would go to non-highway projects, such as bike paths, pedestrian walkways and transit. It also would allow Sound Transit to ask voters to pay for potential expansions of its rail line.
Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn, the House Transportation Committee chairwoman, said a vote for the package is a vote “for the future.”
“If you’re a commuter that’s stuck in I-5 traffic or 405 traffic, or on Division Street in Spokane waiting for the North-South Freeway, things are going to get better,” she said. “If you take a bus, you’re going to have fewer delays.”
The Legislature has struggled for the past few years to pass a new plan that pays for road projects. The Senate approved a proposal earlier this year and had been in negotiations with the House for months.
The talks made progress after Gov. Jay Inslee said he would sign any deal between the two chambers, even if it included language he had opposed related to a low-carbon fuel standard — a major point of contention in the negotiations.
If a state agency adopts the standard, which requires cleaner fuels over time, all fee-based funding for transit and bike paths would instead be moved into the main transportation account. The compromise bill restricts action on the standard for eight years.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, a Democrat from Seattle, said that while he supported the investments the package made on the state’s roads and ferries, the provision on the low carbon fuel standard compelled him to vote against the measure.
“Every year that we delay reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, the greater the cost to our state,” he said.
The House rejected an amendment that would have required a referendum putting the package to a public vote, which led some lawmakers to criticize the passage of a tax increase in the middle of the night.
“The people of the state of Washington do not want this, and we didn’t even give them a chance to vote on it,” said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley.