OLYMPIA — The Senate on Monday approved a $15 billion transportation revenue package that includes an incremental gas tax increase of 11.7 cents over the next three years.
The chamber passed the revenue bill on a 27-22 bipartisan vote and negotiations with the House will begin. They also passed a spending bill that designates the money to specific projects.
“Even though there are issues with it that we might all have, this is a process,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens. “In the end, I think we will have something that is very good for the state of Washington.”
Under the 16-year plan, the gas tax would increase in three stages: a 5-cent increase would take effect this summer, a 4.2-cent increase would follow next year, and then a final 2.5-cent increase would take effect the following year.
Sen. Brian Dansel, a Republican from Republic, said that nearly 12 cents a gallon may not seem like a lot, but “it adds up quite a bit for folks who have to drive greater distances to fill their rigs up more often.”
The Senate proposal includes more than $8 billion for road projects that include the North-South Freeway in Spokane and I-90 on Snoqualmie Pass, and puts money toward transit and local rail projects, as well as bike paths and pedestrian walkways. It also would allow Sound Transit to ask voters to fund potential expansions of its rail line.
The plan does not incorporate elements of Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate-based proposal, which would have charged polluters under a cap-and-trade program to pay for transportation projects.
Part of the plan also addresses another idea Inslee is considering, a low carbon fuel standard that would require cleaner fuels over time. If that standard is ultimately adopted, under the Senate plan, all non-bondable revenues — such as fee-based money going toward transit and bike paths — would instead be moved into the main transportation account, a tie that several Democrats decried, even some who ultimately voted for the bill.
“I really would strongly prefer to be able to vote on the revenue and the projects and not have that other policy debate brought into this bill,” said Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat from Seattle who voted in favor of the package.
Last Friday, the Senate passed eight bills tied to the package, ranging from environmental permitting to adding “congestion relief and improved freight mobility” to existing state goals.
One of the biggest bills of contention that passed last week was one that would exempt all state highway projects from the state sales tax and would redirect sales tax money from non-highway transportation projects away from the state general fund
In a written statement emailed after the Senate vote, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said of the overall package that “the bad greatly outweighs the good.”
Sullivan has said that lawmakers must address a court-ordered requirement to put additional money toward the state’s education system, and questioned diverting sales tax dollars to the transportation budget.
“It moves us in the wrong direction and away from meeting our requirement of amply funding our schools,” he wrote.