Democrats say they are interested in some of what Republicans announced Thursday as their top priorities for cutting transportation costs.
“What I would like to see is … You take the reforms, then you come and help us with the funding. I think it’s a partnership,” said House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, the Mercer Island Democrat who has proposed a package including a 10-cent gas tax increase to fund projects such as extending State Route 167. “If they want to start with efficiencies, that’s fine.”
Minority House Republicans have been cool to House Democrats’ nearly $10 billion tax package, and they are making no public promises to warm up if they get what they want. House Republicans’ point man on transportation, Kalama Rep. Ed Orcutt, said the Legislature needs to address high costs and recent Department of Transportation errors — and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee needs to sign those changes into law — before Republicans consider asking taxpayers for more money.
“Let’s find out what our current dollars can do, figure out what is truly needed when we fix the cost issue, and then we can figure out what we can do as far as any additional revenue,” Orcutt said.
Republicans are on the wrong side of a 55-43 split in the House, and a majority can vote to raise taxes after a Supreme Court struck down voter-imposed requirements for two-thirds supermajorities. But Republicans are ascendant in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Democrat who caucuses with the GOP, has voiced support for a higher gas tax but said he would not allow tax increases without two-thirds support.
Orcutt cites six changes seen as crucial:
- An exemption for state transportation projects from paying sales tax. House Bill 1985 would apply only to future projects.
- Replacing 30-year bonds with 15-year bonds so bonded gas-tax money isn’t tied up paying off projects long after they are finished. House Bill 1989 would make that change to borrowing.
- Limiting DOT’s liability in lawsuits. House Bill 1984 seeks to limit payouts to the level of the department’s fault. DOT paid out $33 million in fiscal 2011.
- Require DOT to report on engineering errors costing more than $500,000 and explain why employees were not fired after mistakes of more than $1 million. House Bill 1986 could have affected recent mistakes on pontoons built for a new State Route 520 floating bridge or a misplaced ramp on the Nalley Valley Viaduct.
- Limit the reach of the Growth Management Act. House Bill 1619 would suspend the act for counties where unemployment is at more than 7 percent — currently, nearly the whole state.
- Require state environmental agencies to issue permits within 90 days — on a wide array of projects, public or private, not just transportation. House Bill 1236 would require permitting agencies to make quick evaluations of the potential for damage or pollution by projects, potentially short-circuiting legal challenges by environmental groups and benefiting contractors and other businesses.
We plan to have more on this story in tomorrow’s paper.