- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - House and Senate transportation leaders said Sunday that they have finalized details of a multi-billion dollar transportation revenue package that includes an incremental increase in the gas tax.

Democratic House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn and Republican Sen. Joe Fain, vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, both said that negotiations were now done. Clibborn said that the last meeting over the package was completed early Sunday afternoon, and that lawmakers would be briefed before full details would be released publicly.

The headway in negotiations between the chambers came after Gov. Jay Inslee said he would sign any ultimate deal between the two chambers, even if it includes language that Inslee opposed related to a low-carbon fuel standard, which had been a major point of contention in the negotiations.

Clibborn said she was relieved that negotiations were done, and she called the final deal “a good product.” She said that both she and Republican Sen. Curtis King, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, worked hard to make sure “it was really a good compromise budget and reflected everyone’s values.”

The Legislature has struggled to pass a new plan that pays for road projects across the state for the past few years. But Clibborn has said this year is the closest they have come to agreement. The Senate passed a plan earlier this year and has been in negotiations with the House for months.

King said Sunday that he was glad that negotiators have reached agreement, but he cautioned Sunday that “we have a ways to go.”

“You don’t count these things until they’re off the floor and signed by the governor,” he said.

Clibborn and King wouldn’t give specific details on the plan, but Clibborn said the framework was similar to what had previously been considered, except that the gas tax increase would be 11.9 cents per gallon, instead of the 11.7 cent passed by the Senate earlier this year. Under the 16-year plan, the increase would incremental, though Clibborn wouldn’t yet say over how many years. Fain said that the revenue package had more than $15 billion in spending on projects.

The plan also addresses an idea Inslee is considering, a low carbon-fuel standard that would require cleaner fuels over time. If that standard is ultimately adopted, all fee-based money going toward transit and bike paths would instead be moved into the main transportation account, a tie that several Democrats and Inslee had decried. Unlike the previous proposal, which had that requirement for the full 16 years, the new plan only has that contingency through 2023, Fain said.

But in a news release sent Sunday morning, Inslee wrote that even though the current bill “has a poison pill that pits clean air against transit,” lawmakers have told him it’s necessary in order to pass the package.

“I will sign the bill even with this provision because of the jobs, safety improvements and traffic relief that the investments would provide,” Inslee wrote. He urged lawmakers to pass the package by Tuesday.

“We appreciate the difficult decision the governor has made and applaud him for not allowing a single issue to stand in the way of achieving these important investments in Washington’s transportation future,” King and Fain wrote in a joint statement earlier in the day.

A time hadn’t yet been set on when the details would be released or when a vote might be taken on the package, but the Senate started moving a series of other transportation-related bills Sunday, including ones related to permitting and ferry construction.

The announcement comes as lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Sunday to start a third special session to finish negotiations on a state operating budget. Lawmakers must move swiftly to pass a two-year budget in time to avoid a partial government shutdown on Wednesday.

Inslee and legislative leaders from both chambers held a press conference Saturday afternoon to address news of an agreement on the framework of the budget. They offered few specifics, however, saying that numerous details have not been resolved, but promising that the state will not face a government shutdown.

An outline of the agreement provided Saturday says that the budget is about $38 billion, that it spends an estimated $1.3 billion on K-12 basic education, and that it will reduce the cost of tuition at the state’s colleges and universities and community colleges. The outline also says the budget will fully pay for collective bargaining agreements for state employees and raises for teachers.

More details were expected to be made public Monday, and the Legislature was expected to vote on the package starting sometime Monday evening.

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