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Transportation taxes go down to rare failure on House floor

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on June 26, 2013 at 4:34 pm with No Comments »
June 26, 2013 5:24 pm

The number of “yes” votes on the House voting screen ticked upward, then hovered at 49 for a long and dramatic few seconds — but couldn’t get to 50 and the majority needed to pass.

Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup
Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup

And with that, a transportation revenue package whose centerpiece is a 10.5 cent gas tax increase fell short, a rare defeat on the House floor, where vote counts usually keep doomed proposals from even showing up.

Backers of road projects, mass transit and ferries had taken a leap of faith only to fall short.

One of the supporters, Rep. Marko Liias, then changed his vote so he could later call for reconsideration, which left the tally at 48 yes, 42 no. Six other Democrats joined Republicans in opposition: Brian Blake of Aberdeen, Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, Kathy Haigh of Shelton, Chris Hurst of Enumclaw, Monica Stonier of Vancouver and Kevin Van De Wege of SequimOne Republican, Puyallup’s Hans Zeiger, who badly wants state Route 167 extended to the Port of Tacoma, voted with the Democrats in support.

Six Republicans and Democrat Dean Takko of Longview were absent; Takko is overseas.

Zeiger said he expected another vote to come Thursday morning.

There is precedent for a revival from the dead — of transportation taxes, even.

In 2005, a 9.5-cent gas tax increase failed in the House. But a day later, the vote was reconsidered and reversed, picking up nine votes. Then-Gov. Chris Gregoire signed it into law and voters rejected an attempt to repeal it, raising the state gas tax to the current 37.5 cents.

“It’s up to the Dems to find the votes, because I don’t think they will see much movement on our side,” said Zeiger. He said Republicans don’t think Democrats have allowed enough reforms to how the Department of Transportation spends money — an opinion he shares, he said.

But it’s outweighed by his support for finishing SR 167, which is being paired with a completion of state Route 509 and HOT lanes on Interstate 5 that together would receive the most money of any project, $1.44 billion.

“I think we’ve made some great momentum on 167,” he said. “That project has been waiting for 40 years in the Puyallup Valley to get that thing finished.”

UPDATE 4:55 p.m.:

Some lawmakers don’t have as much obvious benefit for their districts.

“There are a lot of people in rural areas that will be left out as part of this, yet they’ll be paying for it.”Republican opponent Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama said on the floor. “The taxpayers have had enough. The taxpayers can’t bear any more. Especially 10 1/2 cents on something that is absolutely critical for them getting back and forth to work.”

There’s a coalition of business, labor and environmental interests backing the measure that could pressure recalcitrant House members.

“This is a tough vote for some folks. And we didn’t know exactly where people were at,” Liias, of Edmonds, said after the vote. “We now know who’s opposed, so from the business community perspective, from the environmental community perspective, from labor’s perspective, we now know who we need to be talking to to get to 50.”

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