Two Democrats from rural districts reversed their votes today on a 10-1/2-cents-a-gallon increase in the gas tax to pay for road projects — giving supporters enough votes to pass it through the state House.
The vote came just a day after the exact same measure failed by one vote. But after Rep. Brian Blake of Aberdeen and Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim joined supporters, the bill passed by a 51-to-41 margin.
“It was kind of depressing yesterday, I have to admit,” said the plan’s author, Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, who insisted she did not promise anything to get the votes. ”It was just a matter of everybody kind of calming down, stepping back, looking at where they needed to be.”
Blake said he switched to help move the package of fees and taxes along with the hopes that road projects in his district would be added. He said such projects, particularly grade-separation work in Longview’s industrial area, would be needed to be sure of his vote on any final deal.
Next up: “We’re going to look for a bipartisan success in the Senate,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who praised the proposal as a way to create public-works jobs while heading off problems with infrastructure — name checking the Skagit River bridge collapse, of course.
But prospects in the Senate are uncertain.
Will senators even take a vote? “I think it’s very doubtful,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon, the Potlatch Democrat who joined a mostly Republican coalition to take charge of the Senate. Echoing the Republican argument against the measure, Sheldon said the Legislature should reform how the Department of Transportation spends money before giving more.
“I think if it ever had a vote here, it would have a referendum attached and I think the people would deep-six it by a very large majority,” Sheldon said.