Lawmakers adjourn without a deal

"Unable to reach an agreement on an $8.8 billion, 10-year transportation spending and tax package, the Washington State Legislature adjourned its third overtime session on Wednesday July 25, heads hanging low.That we can't address the state's grave transportation problems is a major tragedy for the state of Washington, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton. Putting this off for a year isn't going to make the situation better, but prolong traffic congestion instead.For Kitsap constituents, the good news in all of this is that there are no new transportation taxes in sight for a while. The bad news is that hopes have dimmed for the construction of a foot ferry route from Kingston to downtown Seattle, expansion of cross-Sound ferry services, a second Tacoma Narrows Bridge and a Puget Sound Regional Transportation plan.It's quite discouraging, agreed Rep. Beverly Woods, a Poulsbo Republican who had worked closely with other transportation negotiators over the last several weeks. We're at an impasse and there are just not enough votes.The evenly divided House of Representatives - tasked for the first time in the seven-month session with voting before the Senate on a transportation plan - couldn't produce the 50 required votes.House Republicans generally couldn't stomach the package because it called for extensive tax increases without imposing stricter efficiency and accountability measures on the state Department of Transportation.Woods also said more House Republicans in her caucus would have voted for the plan had they been assured it would revert to the voters this fall. Gov. Gary Locke and other lawmakers, citing the pressing need for a transportation fix, said a fall ballot measure wasn't prudent at this point, and both parties in the Senate have agreed from the start that a fall vote wouldn't set in motion a transportation fix quickly enough.We're drowning and they (House Republicans) want the life ring to be pink, said Sheldon, arguing that sending a complex transportation plan to the voters for a vote isn't feasible solution. We need the transportation plan to be a bi-partisan measure and we have to take the tough votes.House Democrats, meanwhile, didn't want to be primarily responsible for the unpopular transportation tax increases, and tried to urge bi-partisan support for the package in the House. But it never happened. All the while, both Senate transportation leaders had the 25 votes in their pockets necessary for approving a transportation package, with just one more Democrat than Republican promising to vote in favor of the 10-year transportation plan.I think everybody in the state should be concerned about what's happening, said Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, an avid second Tacoma Narrows Bridge supporter. We can't turn our backs on the needs of the state.Locke told reporters Wednesday he and fellow lawmakers plan to continue working on a transportation fix for one of the country's most congested regions, despite the stalemate. The negotiators and I will continue to work on completing a transportation package, he said. This issue is too important to walk away from.But Sheldon said it's doubtful that a plan could be approved before the next Legislative session convenes in 2002, especially since seven months of legislative sessions and a two and a half-year planning process has ended in a stalemate. Moreover, constituents can expect a heated special election this fall that could tip the political balance in the evenly divided House of Representatives.A one-year Republican incumbent, who represents part of Snohomish county, plans to vie to retain the seat this fall, but if a Democratic candidate secures the spot, the Democrats will tip the balance in the House, securing a majority.Oke, on the other hand, says a transportation package must be approved before 2002.Nothing will happen in a 60-day session, the Port Orchard senator said. The off-cycle is not the time to expect the Legislature to accomplish this monster of a job, so I am hopeful that the governor will continue with the committee that's working on a compromise and, if necessary, I hope he pulls in more legislators to get the job done. I would volunteer for that.In any event, Kitsap lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, left Olympia feeling defeated, especially since they felt confident the week before that a compromise could be reached and a transportation plan approved.The original $8.8 billion plan proposed by negotiators hinged on a 9-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase to be phased in over two years, a 2 percent surcharge on the purchase of new and used cars and a 25 percent increase in trucking fees.But tax wary constituents and a mish-mash of lawmakers in caucus balked at the tax proposals, especially at the thought of the first gas tax hike in a decade.Consequently, the plan was pared down to a 9-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase over three years rather than two, a 1.5 percent rather than 2 percent surcharge on the purchase of new and used vehicles and a much more modest increase in trucking fees, rather than a 25 percent hike.When lawmakers vacated the Capitol on Wednesday, they adjourned on the 163rd day of session, just two days away from breaking the all-time record set in 1977. 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