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Olympia seeks accord on budget plan

Senate members unveiled their bipartisan transportation tax package late last week, just days after Gov. Gary Locke outlined his proposal and House Democrats sketched out their own response to the state’s transportation needs.

The Senate plan includes $298 million for the state ferry system, including money to buy one replacement vessel and to undertake various terminal improvement and maintenance projects, but no breakdown was available to determine how much of that money might go to Bainbridge Island projects.

“It won’t be until sometime after Tuesday before we have a feel for what’s going to come out of this,” said Port Orchard Republican Sen. Bob Oke.

Senate and House negotiators planned to meet Tuesday night with the governor for, as Oke called it, a “pajama party,” to discuss a possible compromise at length.

For now, the Senate version is a 10-year, $4.1 billion spending plan that relies on a 5-cent a gallon gas tax increase. Individual commuters could expect to spend an additional $31 annually to cover the nickel gas tax proposal.

The Senate spending plan would build 266 miles in new lanes, finish 97 ongoing projects primarily dealing with congestion as well as safety, ferries and public transportation, and would fund $660 million in high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

It would also:

• Spend $2.26 billion in highway construction projects in the central Sound region encompassing King, Pierce and Snohomish counties;

• Spend $1.18 billion on highway construction projects spread across the other regions of Washington state, including Kitsap County;

• Spend $218 million for passenger and freight rail capital projects, including $156 million for track improvements on the rail line between Bellingham and Vancouver.

The Senate plan doesn’t provide any support for passenger-only ferry service, which WSF wants to discontinue as of June 15 to save money.

Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton, said the best way to save fast-ferry service is to spin it off to another entity such as Kitsap Transit, which has said it will pick up the service if voters approve the funds to do so.

“I am very strongly supporting Kitsap Transit’s plan,” she said. “We have tried and tried to get something established for passenger-only ferry service statewide. Our time has come to put together a passenger-only ferry program that will serve Kitsap County and the commuters.”

Sheldon refers to Kitsap Transit’s plan as Kitsap’s “best bet” to continue foot-ferry service from Bremerton to Seattle. The plan would also expand service to Kingston and Southworth if Kitsap voters approve a sales tax increase this fall.

Direct ferry service from Kingston to downtown Seattle has been a key goal of Bainbridge as a way of reducing cross-island traffic from the Kitsap Peninsula to the Bainbridge ferry terminal.

Negotiations aside, the Senate plan is the most ambitious package of the three unveiled in the past week. The House version is a $2.6 billion tax package hinging on 3-cent gas tax increase; a new 0.6 tax on the transfer of new and used motor vehicles; and a 15 percent gross weight surcharge for trucks of more than 10,000 pounds.

Locke’s proposal falls somewhere in between the two: the $3.2 billion spending plan relies on a gas tax increase of 4 cents a gallon, a 0.5 percent new and used title transfer transaction fee and a 15 percent gross weight surcharge for trucks of more than 10,000 pounds.

All three plans are pared down version of Referendum 51, a $7.7 billion plan that depended on a 9 cent a gallon gas tax increase, above the existing 23-cent a gallon tax. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure statewide last fall.

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