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Democrats challenge Senate transportation proposal over two-thirds supermajority rule

by caprecord

Those who were hoping to see a transportation package passed off the floor on Friday were left with a cliffhanger. Senators will return to the debate on Monday following a surprise challenge from Democrats.

The state Senate on Friday began debate on a $15 billion dollar transportation package, which would pay for major road projects around the state by raising the gas tax by 11.5 cents per gallon. The package also includes conditions that many Democrats oppose — including what they call a “poison pill” that would shift money away from transit, bike and pedestrian paths if the governor institutes a clean fuel standard.

Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson urged members on the floor to adopt a “clean package” without the conditions. She said her version still provides tax money to fund transportation projects, but is “not linked to any other legislation which may be based on ideology from either party.”

That proposal failed along caucus lines. As the Senate prepared to debate the final transportation package that included the conditions, Democratic Sen. Annette Cleveland asked Lt. Gov. Brad Owen if the proposal to raise the gas tax requires approval of two-thirds of members based upon a rule change made on the first day of session.

The rule change, which was passed off the floor by the mostly Republican Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, includes a clause that would require bills with a new tax to get a two-thirds supermajority approval of the Senate before advancing to third reading.

Republican Sen. Curtis King responded to Cleveland’s question by saying he believes the gas taxes in the package are “existing taxes and therefore would not fall under that guideline.”

Following a break, Sen. Joe Fain told members the Senate will hold off on the transportation package until Monday to give Owen time to make his decision.

Before the challenge, the Senate debated several other bills related to the transportation package. One of the most contentious proposals, Senate Bill 5990, would shift sales tax money collected from building road projects away from the general fund, and use it for transportation.

Several Democrats spoke in opposition to the proposal, saying it will rob the general fund of education money.

“The fact is that taking a billion dollars, when we have no agreement around where those dollars are going to come from, means that we are saying, ‘We are going to fund concrete instead of our kids,'” said Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle.

Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane urged support, saying the transportation package will add money to the general fund for education in the long-term. “What those roads are going to do is allow our economy to grow and generate a tremendous amount of economic growth,” he said.

The bill passed along caucus lines with a vote of 26 to 23.

You can watch the full Senate floor debate in TVW archives. We’ll also have the highlights on Friday’s edition of “Legislative Review” at 6:30 and 11 p.m. (unless a committee is live).

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