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Slow going on transportation plan

Negotiations this week among legislators in Olympia on a state transportation revenue package slowed crawl and are threatening to stall before the end of the session.

Still, Kitsap lawmakers are optimistic.

“It’s our goal to finish by March 14,” Rep. Bev Woods, R-Poulsbo, said. “We’re still working on the revenue side of the picture, but we haven’t yet gotten into the nitty-gritty of the transportation project list.”

Woods represents the House GOP caucus on a transportation conference committee involving lower chamber and Senate negotiators.

At the negotiation table is a 10-year, $6 billion House-Democrat revenue package, approved March 1, and an $8.2 billion Senate Democrat proposal unveiled on March 2.

One obstacle immediately arose.

“The Senate wants legislators to vote on a transportation plan in Olympia,” Woods said. “Meanwhile, the House wants the plan to go to the ballot box. That has been one of the biggest obstacles.”

Sen. Bob Oke, a Port Orchard Republican and Senate Transportation Committee member, says the Senate will try to pressure the House into voting on a tax plan in Olympia.

“The House has been the problem,” he said. “We in the Senate are probably going to pass our version to the House in the form of a bill and put the pressure on them to pass it back here. We’re in such a mess transportation-wise, the whole state depends on us to fix the problems. Otherwise, we’re going to lose the financial drivers, such as the Boeings.”

Oke said he also received assurances on Thursday from Senate Transportation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, that she now supports funding passenger-only ferry service at Southworth.

Earlier versions of the Senate Democrat proposal excluded Kingston and South-worth from passenger-ferry funds. But after Senate floor leader Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton, lobbied Haugen earlier this week, Kingston was also included in the Senate plan.

Woods said talks should firm up this weekend, once negotiators catch their breath. It’s a full-court press at the Capitol this week as Senate and House members furiously vote on a flurry of bills before this session’s mid March deadline.

“We’re working 14-hour days as it is, so it’s been hard to squeeze in these meetings,” Woods said. “We’re all on the floor right now, but I anticipate this weekend will be beneficial.”

Woods says she’ll fight for ferries — and the House-approved plan so far buoys ferries more than the Senate version.

But it’s the revenue sourcing that’s caused the most strife among the negotiators.

Woods says she’s concerned about how weight fees could impact the trucking industry.

“There are added costs to that that should be considered. It’s inflationary,” Woods said. “Some of those costs could be passed on to customers.”

While the House-approved plan would increase truck weight fees by 20 percent over the next two years, Senate Democrats have proposed a 30 percent increase to be phased in over two years.

Woods is also critical of the proposed 1 percent increase in sales taxes on new and used vehicles espoused by the House-approved plan and the Senate proposal.

Before negotiations were underway, the House GOP offered an amendement to the House plan that would have used .5 percent of the existing sales tax on cars starting in 2004 for multi-modal transportation projects, rather than for the general fund.

Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, had crticized such a move at the time, saying the GOP plan would tap funds used toward education programs and health care.

“All of us should be standing shoulder to shoulder on this,” he said.

The House ultimately voted down the Republican proposal, as well as a similar suggestion that the state use the existing 6.5 percent sales tax on new highway construction for transportation projects.

Woods said negotiators are also discussing regional options — plans whereby counties can raise taxes locally to fund local projects — in conjunction with the state plan.

“Overall, the House wants to allocate more money to multi-modal projects such as ferries and transit, while the Senate emphasizes roads,” Woods said. “We’re closer than we were a year ago to a plan. We’re going to try to make the deadline.”

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