House Democrats today proposed a scaled-back version of the transportation tax package they unveiled earlier this session. The new version still includes $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing.
The transportation revenue package is separate from the House and Senate bare-bones transportation budgets that were released recently. Those budgets included some additional planning money for the CRC, but no new construction money for the project.
In contrast, the revised House transportation revenue plan would raise about $8.4 billion in 12 years through an increased gas tax, a commercial vehicle weight fee, a $5 vehicle registration fee and other fees. A 10-cent per gallon gas tax hike would phase in slowly, with a portion of the tax increase kicking in every two years. The first increase would be 5 cents, followed by two 2-cent increases, then an additional 1 cent increase.
The first version of the tax package would have raised $9.8 billion in 10 years, and it also would have imposed taxes on hazardous substances and bicycle purchases. Those taxes are removed in the new version.
In addition to funding the CRC, the revised transportation tax proposal would give $1.27 billion to the Puget Sound Gateway Project (which improves state Highways 167 and 509), $675 million to widen Interstate 405 between Renton and Lynnwood, and $420 million for the North Spokane Corridor project.
Washington and Oregon are expected to jointly pay about a third of the CRC’s total cost. Plans call for federal funding sources and tolling to cover the rest. The $3.4 billion megaproject would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, extend light rail into Vancouver and rebuild 5 miles of freeway and freeway interchanges near the bridge.
Oregon legislators have already approved spending $450 million on the CRC, but that spending agreement is contingent Washington legislators doing the same this year. The 2013 Washington Legislature is scheduled to conclude in less than two weeks, on April 28.
The $450 million provided for the CRC has a good chance in passing out of the Democratic-controlled House, but it might face a challenge once the transportation tax package moves to the Washington Senate. Leaders within the Senate’s conservative Majority Coalition Caucus have said they do not want to give money to the CRC project and that the project should be investigated. That caucus controls the Senate by a thin 25-24 majority.
State Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, the co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said by phone Friday that he does not support including the CRC in a transportation tax package, and that he wants Washington voters to have the final say when it comes to the tax package.
“There’s still a lot of very serious questions that have to be answered, from (business) mitigation costs to the Coast Guard (permit process),” King said. “What will the tolls be to collect that revenue? Yet we keep being forced to try to make a decision when you don’t have all the information.”
On Tuesday, King said in a statement, “Though I don’t agree with everything in this package, I agree that we need to have this conversation. … I am committed to finding a bipartisan solution that incorporates cost-savings and reforms to keep our economy moving.”
State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, a CRC supporter, said he predicts the Senate will strip the $450 million in CRC funding from the transportation tax package, and he said he will fight to restore it when it returns to the House for concurrence. If the Senate and House can’t agree on the proposal, it will go to a conference committee to hammer out the differences.
“We’re going to have to come to some sort of agreement if we’re going to have a revenue package,” Moeller said by phone on Friday.
Also on Tuesday, the House passed its transportation budget proposal, which doesn’t include a plan to increase revenue. That budget plan includes $49 million for continued planning of the CRC project. The budget also would give the state’s Transportation Commission back its authority to set toll rates for the CRC (voter Initiative 1185 shifted that task to the Legislature).
The budget proposal, which passed on a vote of 68-28, now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Reps. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, voted in favor of the proposal. Reps. Liz Pike, R-Camas; Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver; Paul Harris, R-Vancouver; Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver; and Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, voted against the budget plan.
During the transportation budget debate, Pike unsuccessfully introduced an amendment that would have kept any more state money from going toward the CRC as proposed. The amendment also would have required the state’s department of transportation to study a new CRC design that excludes light rail.
Her amendment prompted several legislators from Clark County to weigh in on the project. Wylie said that each delay in the CRC project costs the taxpayers more money. Harris said the working poor in his district who commute to Oregon can’t afford to pay the tolls that would come with building the CRC.
“Give them free tolls and I will come along with this project,” Harris said. He also called the CRC plan “flawed.”
Pike’s amendment failed on a vote of 43-52.
Lucas Wiseman contributed to this story.