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Washington Senate approves transportation revenue bill amid partisan rancor

The Washington State Senate approved revenue sources legislation for the Democrat majority’s $16 billion, 16-year “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package.

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5974 – so designated after a series of amendments were passed to be included in the legislation – provides funding anticipated to come from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a one-time $2 billion transfer from the general fund, $5.4 billion from the Climate Commitment Act passed by the state legislature last year, and hikes in vehicle-related fees.

ESSB 5974 contains no increase in the gas tax, but it does contain a provision for a 6-cent tax on fuel exports estimated to bring in $2 billion. On Monday, the Senate Transportation Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to SB 5974, including a unanimously adopted amendment that would delay exported fuel tax from Feb. 1, 2023 to June 30, 2023.

ESSB 5974 passed on a 29-20 vote Tuesday night.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, was effusive in his praise for the legislation.

“After a long debate, a lot of amendments, a lot of new ideas, we are on the verge of a new day in transportation,” he said. “A day where we center our decisions and center our policies on core values of equity, on health, on environmental sustainability, on mobility for all. This bill represents exactly what government should be doing at all levels of government in this moment in our history: solving problems and making life better for the people we serve.”

He went on to say, “This package invests in every corner of Washington: The largest investment in maintenance and preservation in our state’s history. That will mean roads and bridges, highways and every part of Washington – from Chewelah to the Columbia River to the Canadian border to the [Olympic] Peninsula and beyond – will all see new investment, new maintenance, more preservation, more investment in our infrastructure.”

Things got somewhat contentious in the form of a Republican challenge to the bill on an alleged rules violation. Democrats ended up cutting off debate to set up a final vote on the proposed legislation.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said the bill violated Senate Rule 25 that “No bill shall embrace more than one subject and that shall be expressed in the title.”

“Substitute Senate Bill 5974 is a lengthy bill that contains more than one subject in violation of our Senate rules,” he said. “The bill before us covers at least 30 items, the many of which focus on  creating new or increasing current state, and local transportation revenues. But some items, Mr. President [Lt. Gov. Denny Heck in his capacity as president of the Senate], are far beyond the general subject of transportation resources, and others were included in separate measures during our current session.”

He pointed to fuel standards and expanded use of traffic cameras as examples of subjects he contended were beyond the scope of the transportation bill.

Liias defended the bill and how it was written.

“I believe that Engrossed Senate Substitute Bill 5974 squarely falls within the Senate’s rules,” he said. “We have a tradition here of passing omnibus revenue measure that embrace a number of issues. If you look at our other omnibus measures related to the transportation operating budget, you will see that this year. Also, when it comes to the single-subject rule, we were intentionally clear in the title that this is a broad bill with many subjects related to transportation.”

Heck ruled against King.

“Omnibus bills are intended to cover a wide variety of provisions that address the subject of the bill,” Heck said. “This bill is no different.”

Nevertheless, Republicans agitated against the bill.

“This is not a new day as the prime sponsor had said,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said.

Braun call ESSB 5974 “a partisan bill introduced a week ago with no Republican input. A week ago, as I said earlier today, no time for deliberation, not even a fiscal note. Today we’re passing a bill with billions of dollars in new taxes. We do not even have a fiscal note how this is going to work.”

Despite Liias’ claim to the contrary, Braun said the low carbon fuel standard and export fuel taxes in the legislation would result in higher gas prices for consumers, not to mention the various fee hikes the public will also have to pay.

The bill is a missed opportunity in how transportation is paid for, he said, making for an “unaffordable future for the state of Washington.”

Sen. Jaimie Peterson, D-Seattle, a majority floor leader, invoked the “previous question” rule – along with the required two other senators – to end debate and move the bill to a final vote.

That move didn’t sit well with at least one senator, who shortly after the vote made his feelings known on social media.

“I make it a practice to never leave the Senate Floor angry; disappointed yes, but not angry,” Rep. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, wrote on his Facebook page. “Tonight, for only the second time since I began representing the 39th Legislative District, I left ANGRY.”

He explained the reasoning behind his anger: “[W]hen they also move to ‘end debate’ before everyone has a chance to speak and steal your representation by silencing discussion, THAT is cause for anger. So not only is our state being poorly served by bad policy, but the people’s voices are being silenced. This is how a One-Party system operates. Remember this in November.”

This article was originally posted on Washington Senate approves transportation revenue bill amid partisan rancor

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