House Speaker Frank Chopp told reporters this afternoon that a possible $6 billion transportation package, including a phased-in 10-cent increase in the state gas tax over five years, is a conversation starter for the Legislature. He said it is too early to know if the 2-cents a year proposal should go to a vote of the public in November, or if the Legislature could get it done in Olympia.
Full details of the plan are due during the lunch hour when Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn of Mercer Island lays out details of the plan. She has been working with a coalition of interest groups including business, labor and environmentalists.
“It’s an attempt to put forth a good faith proposal and see what the reaction is,” Chopp said.
Both Chopp and House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, talked with several Capitol reporters Tuesday afternoon. They said a revenue package to help pay for K-12 school improvements is a top priority in the budget this year. And they say the need for a transportation revenue and school revenues are not mutually exclusive – as in, it’s not one or the other.
“There is a need for both …” Sullivan said.
Chopp suggested the transportation investment, which includes money for ferries and transit, is of two-pronged benefit, both as a provider of jobs and also an improvement in infrastructure that helps the economy. He said the gas-tax packages of 2003 and 2005 paid for projects that helped the state economy during the Great Recession.
Neither House Democratic leader would say if they think the transportation taxes need to go to the ballot. Chopp said it is “too early” to know.
But Sullivan said any revenue package for schools would need to be approved by the Legislature in Olympia – and not go out to the ballot. In comments he’s made before, he said the Supreme Court order to improve K-12 funding requires the state to find a reliable source of funding.
Going to voters to approve a tax package – just like going to voters for a school levy – is not a reliable way to secure the funds, according to Sullivan.
The Majority Coalition Caucus that controls the Senate has been hostile to talk of tax increases for schools. But the coalition leaders are open to passing a transportation package, according to Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina.
House Republicans led by Rep. Richard DeBolt have sounded wary of increases in the gas tax that hit people in rural areas who are out of work.
Gov. Jay Inslee, who just named a new transportation secretary, told reporters he is going to work with Republicans and Democrats on a transportation tax plan. Inslee also said he thinks lawmakers need to get it done in Olympia – and not by sending it to a vote of the people.
The Democratic governor said Clibborn’s approach “is moving in the right direction.”
But Inslee conceded that a two-thirds supermajority vote requirement imposed by Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1085 makes that a real challenge if the state Supreme Court does not strike down that vote requirement as unconstitutional.