Washington Legislature adjourns after House takes final votes of session



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SEATTLE — The Washington Legislature adjourned Friday after a marathon triple overtime session where lawmakers raised the gas tax to pay for transportation projects across the state, cut college tuition and put more money toward the state's education system.

Lawmakers went home Friday afternoon after the House passed its last remaining bills.

The House passed a transportation bonding measure on a 63-29 vote, and a transportation spending bill for projects across the state on a 61-30 vote. The two bills were the final two components of a $16.1 billion transportation revenue bill passed by the Legislature last week.

"This whole effort to get a transportation package is marked by bipartisan compromise," said Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn, the House Transportation Committee chairwoman. "It hasn't been easy, but nothing is easy that is worth doing."

Rep. Ed Orcutt, a Republican from Kalama, said that while he was voting yes for the two transportation bills, he had concerns.

"I'm concerned about the balance of who's paying and who's receiving," he said.

The chamber also moved a separate bill, on an 89-1 vote, that will delay a requirement for high school students to pass a high school biology exam for this year and 2016, which helps about 2,000 students at risk of not getting diplomas.

The votes came a day after the Senate took its final votes of the year, on both the graduation requirement delay, and a bonding bill tied to the state's $3.9 billion construction budget.

Senate action Thursday came following a weeklong standoff that threatened to blow a $2 billion hole in the $38.2 billion state operating budget signed by Gov. Jay Inslee last week.

That budget had assumed savings from the suspension of the voter-approved Initiative 1351, but a two-thirds vote of each chamber was required. The House easily passed the measure, but Senate Democrats, who were pushing for the graduation requirement delay, initially withheld their support and the measure failed on the Senate floor last week.

After more than a day of negotiations, Senate Bill 6145 was introduced Wednesday. It delays by two years, but does not eliminate, the requirement that students must meet the state standard on the science assessment. Students who did not walk with their graduating class this year, the first year the assessment was required, would still receive a diploma under the measure.

Lawmakers finished their work on their 176th day of session. They adjourned their regular 105-day session two days early at the end of April after encountering their first budget obstacles.

Speaking after lawmakers finished their work Friday, Inslee acknowledged the months-long slog to get a budget.

"This was a tough session, but it has produced some darn good results," Inslee said.

The governor cited money for early learning, K-12 education, parks and raises for public employees as budget items he was proud of.

Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate had struggled for months on the two-year state budget because of differing ideas on how to address a state Supreme Court mandate to put more money into the state's education system.

Democrats initially sought a new capital-gains tax, while Republicans insisted that no taxes were needed because of increasing state revenue. Ultimately, Democrats dropped the new tax idea, and Republicans agreed to close some tax exemptions.

The state budget spends an estimated $1.3 billion on K-12 basic education, and it phases in tuition cuts at the state's universities and colleges, as well as at community and technical colleges.

With the final votes on the transportation package, the plan, which includes an 11.9-cent increase in the gas tax over the next two years, now goes to Inslee for his expected signature.

The transportation plan would increase the gas tax in two stages: a 7-cent increase on Aug. 1 and a 4.9-cent increase on July 1, 2016.

The 16-year plan spends $8.8 billion on state and local road projects and $1.4 billion on maintenance and preservation. An additional $1 billion would go to non-highway projects, such as bike paths, pedestrian walkways and transit. It also would allow Sound Transit to ask voters to pay for potential expansions of its rail line.

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