State House Democrats released a transportation plan Monday that is similar to the Republican proposal that already passed the Senate, funding projects with an 11.7-cent boost in the gas tax.

Share story

OLYMPIA — When unveiling their transportation plan Monday, state House Democrats stressed its common ground with the GOP version the Senate passed last month.

The Democratic plan, which would spend $15.1 billion over 16 years, contains most of the same projects as the GOP proposal and would be financed with a similar, phased-in 11.7-cent boost in the gas tax and higher fees on truck weights and license plates.

“This project list is not all that different from what we had passed out of the House in 2013,” said Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle.

But differences in the Democratic version show where the two parties will have to compromise to avoid last year’s fate, when negotiations for a transportation package broke down.

The Democratic proposal would authorize the full $15 billion sought for Sound Transit’s rail-extension ballot measure; the GOP version would allow $11 billion. That expansion would be funded by voter-approved local property- and sales-tax increases, and car-tab hikes.

Also left out of the plan are two provisions Republicans have been seeking.

Democrats would continue to use some sales-tax money collected from construction projects for education funding.

The GOP proposal advocated keeping those dollars within transportation spending.

And the Democrats forego language used by the GOP to keep Gov. Jay Inslee from implementing low-carbon fuel standards in order to cut greenhouse gases.

In a statement, Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business, criticized the Democratic plan for, among other things, not including the GOP’s restrictions on how sales-tax money from construction projects is spent.

But, Johnson said, “this represents an important step forward in the effort to pass the state’s first major, statewide transportation package in a decade.”

Inslee called the package a “strong proposal,” even though it doesn’t include his proposed carbon-polluter tax as a revenue source.

While he still hopes to see such a tax enacted this session, he doesn’t consider it necessary for a transportation package, according to Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor.

“If they can get agreements on a package and make it happen, the governor’s happy with that,” Smith said.

Like its GOP counterpart, the Democratic proposal would fund road projects that include the west side of the new 520 bridge, the North Spokane Corridor freeway, the widening of Interstate 405, an extension of the Interstate 90 Snoqualmie Pass rebuild to Easton, and the Highway 167 project in South King and North Pierce counties.

It also would provide money for bike paths and pedestrian walkways, and rail and transit projects, and spend $100 million more than the GOP plan on ferry infrastructure.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said the Democratic proposal also earmarks $500 million to be put toward projects not yet been identified.

“So if you’re not in this package and you think you’re toast for 16 years,” she said, “you’re not.”

Although the legislative session is scheduled to end April 26, Clibborn said she doesn’t think that deadline will necessarily stop a package from getting approved.

“I think we would go into (an) extra session,” said Clibborn, adding later: “It doesn’t take months to negotiate if you really, really want to do the negotiations.”

If only $11 billion for Sound Transit expansion spending is authorized, there’s no assurance that light-rail lines could be built to Everett and Tacoma, according to Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma.

But it was notable that the Republican proposal even authorized about 75 percent of the $15 billion requested by Sound Transit, given that it was such a new idea, he said.

Fey added that he was optimistic in “the interest on the part of the Senate to do business with the House to get this done.”

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, was not available Monday for comment.