- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Senate majority leaders on Thursday unveiled a $15 billion transportation revenue package that includes an incremental gas tax increase of 11.7 cents over the next three years.

Senate Transportation Committee chairman Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, introduced the proposal at a news conference joined by Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Democratic Sens. Marko Liias and Steve Hobbs.

Before the announcement, King said he said was confident that the measure would pass the chamber with bipartisan support. He said he understood that some, including colleagues in his caucus, may oppose the idea of a gas tax increase but said, “we don’t have any other way to do it, without changing our whole system.”

“We don’t have another alternative at this point but we also believe we can’t wait any longer to address our maintenance and preservation issues and address congestion,” he said.

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.

The plan also seeks to redirect sales-tax money from transportation projects to a transportation fund instead of the state’s general fund.

The Senate proposal puts more than $8 billion toward 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 package has a total of 11 bills, and King said public hearings would likely start early next week. 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 - like fee-based money going toward transit and bike paths - would instead be moved into the main transportation account.

Hobbs noted that there are issues where he and his Democratic colleagues have areas of disagreement over some issues, including the clean fuel standard issue, but that he thought they could work through them.

“The bottom line is this, this package moves Washington forward and will drive our economy for years to come,” he said.

Even with the lingering areas of contention, King said he remained confident.

“I don’t think the four of us would be standing here if we didn’t feel confident that could muster enough votes,” he said.

Lawmakers have struggled the past few years to reach agreement on a transportation plan, but Fain, the vice chair on the Senate Transportation Committee said the current plan is “the most positive movement that we’ve seen on transportation in this state for many, many years.”

Rep. Judy Clibborn, a Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said she was encouraged by the proposal, but noted that the measure must pass the chamber before House and Senate negotiators can begin their work.

“I look forward to a robust discussion between our two chambers once that occurs,” she said in a written statement.

In a statement issued after the announcement, Gov. Jay Inslee thanked lawmakers for their work, and said it was “a strong start.”

However, he wrote that he had some questions concerning the conditions attached to the bill.

“Under the Senate plan, if Washington adopts a low carbon fuel standard to reduce emissions, we lose transit funding,” he wrote. “As I’ve been saying, we must make progress on funding transportation and reducing carbon emissions this session.”

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