January 30, 2014

Transportation deal still close, lawmakers insist

By: Jason Hagey   Comments: 4
Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, speaks about the negotiations on a transportation package Thursday at AWB's Lobby Lunch meeting. Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, listens at right. Photo: Dan Brunell/AWB
Sen. Steve Hobbs, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Army, compared lawmakers' struggle to reach a deal on a transportation package to a military battle Thursday during AWB's weekly Lobby Lunch gathering.

"We're almost there," said Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens. "In any firefight, it's the last 50 yards that are the hardest, hardest fought. And unfortunately, that's where we are right now."

The push for a deal could take another step forward on Friday when the Senate is expected to release its latest proposal.

Sen. Curtis King, the Yakima Republican who is co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, told the room full of business leaders that he initially hoped to release a new proposal today, but expected lawmakers would receive it Friday instead. (Update: King said Friday that the plan is coming next week, according to The Herald's Jerry Cornfield.)

Whether it breaks the logjam is hard to say. Lawmakers have been saying they are close to striking a deal for months over how best to invest in Washington's transportation infrastructure -- and how to pay for it -- but agreement has proved elusive.

Some of the sticking points came up during the Lobby Lunch briefing.

For example, King said it's important that a transportation package do something to help city and county governments, which he believes were hurt harder than the state by the loss of motor vehicle excise tax revenue.

But he wants to give the money to local governments without strings attached.

"Nobody knows the needs of cities or counties better than council or commission members," he said.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, the Mercer Island Democrat who chairs the House Transportation Committee, offered an opposing view, saying she didn't believe Democrats would support a "peanut buttering" of state dollars to local governments.

"Distribution is in direct conflict with what we really care about," she said, arguing that local governments do better when fewer of them receive larger, project-specific grants than they do when more of them receive smaller no-strings distributions.

Clibborn also said a proposal to exempt the state from paying sales taxes on transportation projects could not pass out of the House in the wake of the Washington Supreme Court's latest ruling regarding school funding.

"I don't have the votes to pass it, Senator King does not have the votes to pass it, even if we agree," she said.

Funding for mass-transit is another sticking point, if the Lobby Lunch comments are any indication.

Clibborn said transit dollars are important to folks in Seattle and Tacoma in part because the cities don't have room to build any more roads.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, said the idea that a transportation package will require a "huge amount" of mass-transit funding in order to win support from Seattle is wrong.

Orcutt said he doubts it would cost many votes in the Legislature, and he also doesn't believe that it makes the most sense for the state as a whole.

"You don't solve congestion problems in Seattle by building more roads and transit," he said. "You solve congestion problems in Seattle by getting our businesses to locate in other areas."

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