- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A proposal to raise the gas tax as part of a multibillion-dollar transportation package won’t get a vote in the House until both chambers negotiate a final deal, a key lawmaker said Thursday.

While the full House on Thursday passed a $7.7 billion maintenance transportation budget that continues ongoing funding for current projects, House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said the Senate’s $15 billion transportation revenue package won’t get a vote in the chamber until there is a negotiated agreement.

Clibborn says that the Senate plan is scheduled for a vote out of her committee Tuesday night, and that she expects negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate to begin the next day. She noted that with just a few weeks left in the legislative session, it didn’t make sense to have a protracted debate on the House floor on a plan that still needed to be negotiated and ultimately voted on again.

Once both chambers can work out the details, “then you have a floor debate.”

“People will debate what they like and what they don’t like but it will be agreed to,” she said.

Last month, the Senate approved a $15 billion transportation revenue package that includes an incremental gas tax increase of 11.7 cents over the next three years. The also approved a spending bill that designates the money to specific projects, as well as several other bills tied to the overall package.

Under the 16-year Senate 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.

Clibborn said that there are many places where both chambers have a lot in common, including agreement for the need for an increase in the gas tax. However, Democrats have issues with other bills tied to the package, including 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.

Senate Transportation Committee chair Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said he would have liked to have seen the House take an initial vote on the Senate plan, but said he looked forward to working with Clibborn to come to a deal this year, an outcome that has eluded the chambers for the past few sessions.

“The longer we wait, the more increased costs we have,” he said. “I think from that standpoint, it’s critical.”

Even though lawmakers have long said a transportation package is necessary for projects across the state, they have struggled the past few years to reach agreement.

House Democrats passed a $10 billion plan in 2013 that included a 10.5 cent increase in the gas tax but it stalled in the Senate. Last year, Senate Republicans proposed a $12.3 billion transportation revenue package that included an 11 1/2-cent gas tax increase, but it never came up for a vote in the Senate and negotiations between Democrats and Republicans stalled once again.

King said he hopes this year is different.

“I think it’s possible,” he said. “I hope it’s probable. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

The 105-day legislative session is scheduled to end April 26.

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