Moderate Republicans in the state senate got their wish today: The $10 billion, 10.5-cent gas tax increase for transportation projects failed in the house 48-42 (meaning it's not going over to the senate), which saved the few centrist senate Republicans from having to vote against it and alienate their constituents who, for example, likely support the $774 million that was earmarked for 405 and the $200 million for 520.
(Moderate Republican senators, like Sens. Joe Fain, R-47, Auburn, and Steve Litzow, R-41, Mercer Island, would have felt compelled to vote against the package to satisfy the governing Majority Coalition Caucus' anti-tax Republicans.)
Messy politics aside, the vote is a blow to King County, which was anxiously banking on the local transit funding option in the package: a 1.5 percent MVET increase that would have (compromise #1) funded transit and roads at a 60/40 split ... and (compromise #2) required a local vote of the people.
House transportation chair Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-41, Mercer Island) issued a statement after the vote:
I am saddened and disappointed by the failed vote on the transportation revenue package. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our public transportation is faltering, and our economy is struggling – but gridlock remains as much a reality in the legislature as it does on our roads.
In addition to the local option provision, Rep. Clibborn's proposal allocated nearly $3.3 billion for major projects including work on: Interstate 405, Snoqualmie Pass on I-90, SR 167 in Yakima, US 12 in Eastern Washington, and the controversial Columbia River Crossing. The package also had $1.1 billion for preservation and maintenance of highways and bridges.
It also had $500 million for transit, and $323 million for bike and ped projects and safe routes to schools.
The main objections to the package, articulated by GOP opponents who spoke against it before the vote today, were: 1) a gas tax hurts poor people (so will 17 percent cuts to Metro, but ...) and 2) standards for transportation financing—such as prevailing wage requirements—need to be reformed to rein in costs. (Democrats groused that they had already passed two GOP reform bills).
In a standout speech, rising GOP star, freshman Rep. Mike Manweller (R-Ellensburg), said he supported the projects, but said the financing was "mathematical malpractice" and the leigslature was a "calculator-free zone." He objected to prevailing wage laws, which he said accounted for $3 billion of the package.
"Right off the top, we’re going to spend three billion—with a B—on prevailing wage," Manweller said. "We don’t get better roads, we just get a bigger bill."
(Democrats challenged Manweller's hot rhetoric about the calculator free-zone, but the presiding speaker, Jim Moeller, D-49, Vancouver, allowed Manweller to continue, ruling that he was merely a passionate speaker, but not out of line or off point.)
One Democrat who spoke out in favor of the legislation, Rep. Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds), ended up voting against the measure in a parliamentary ploy to give the legislation one last chance. (Someone who votes against a bill is allowed, within 24 hours, to call for reconsideration. Liias has already asked for reconsideration.)
However, there were several Democrats who voted against it in earnest (that's why they needed some Republican votes. But they only got one: Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup).
The Democrats who voted no were: Reps. Brian Blake (D-19, Aberdeen), Hans Dunshee (D-44, Snohomish), Kathy Haigh (D-35, Shelton), Christopher Hurst (D-31, Enumclaw), Monica Stonier (D-17, Vancouver), and Kevin Van De Wege (D-24, Sequim). The issue? They're all from swing turf where supporting gas taxes is risky business.
The majority of the no votes, however, came from the GOP caucus, raising the question of why the business community, which was lobbying desperately for the package, backs Republican candidates over Democrats.