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Published on Monday, March 2, 2015

After a few twists and turns transportation package passes off Senate floor

The Senate spent several hours on Friday, February 27, dealing with eleven bills associated with the Senate transportation package. The first order of business was to pass eight reform bills. Five of the eight bills enjoyed broad bipartisan support. The remaining three were controversial and passed with few or no democratic votes. ESB 5993 dealing with prevailing wage and apprenticeship has been very controversial but was amended on the floor to garner wider support. ESB 5991deals with transfers out of the ELSA account for state stormwater and culvert obligations. AWC has been concerned about this bill and will continue to work to get it modified. ESB 5994 deals with local permitting of WSDOT activities. There will likely be more work on this bill in the House, and AWC will be looking for feedback from cities.

An unpleasant surprise for local governments was an amendment adopted on the floor to ESB 5990. The underlying bill transferred the state sales tax paid on state transportation projects from the state general fund to the account that pays for transportation projects. It left the local portion of the sales tax untouched. The amendment sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) creates an exemption for WSDOT paying sales tax on state transportation projects. As this redefines what is taxable, it affects the local share. AWC had been neutral on this bill but will now be actively working to get this provision changed.

There was another surprise when the Senate turned their attention to the revenue bill SSB 5987. Through amendments, Democrats attempted to change two provisions in the bill: 1) to give the full authority that Sound Transit requested; and 2) to remove the so called “poison pill” that made funding for transit and bike/ped activities contingent on the Governor not adopting a low carbon fuel standard. These two amendments were voted down on party lines. Just before a vote on final passage, a Democratic senator asked the Lieutenant Governor whether any of the taxes or fees in the bill would be subject to the 2/3 vote rule adopted by the Senate at the beginning of session (i.e. supermajority vote required to pass new kinds of taxes). The Senate deferred action on the bill until Monday.

On Monday, the Lieutenant Governor issued an opinion that the 2/3 vote rule did apply but then he followed-up with a ruling that the 2/3 rule is unconstitutional. After a short break the Senate returned to pass the revenue and spending bills. Now the transportation package will move to the House. As we have reported earlier we are not expecting quick action in the House.

Categories: Transportation