Rural county bill expected to pass -- sometime

"A bill that would pump $400,000 annually into Island County for economic development purposes is still alive in Olympia.And local legislators say that if it doesn't pass in this year's third special session of the Legislature, it's practically a sure thing for next January.Senate Bill 5028 would add Island County to the state's list of rural counties and thereby allow the county to retain certain sales taxes that now go back to the state. That revenue could be used for infrastructure to help the economy, such as a sewer system for Freeland.The bill has caused divisions in the 10th Legislative District's delegation to Olympia. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, earlier this month guided it through the Senate on a unanimous vote, but it failed to come up for a vote in the House.Reps. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, and Kelly Barlean, R-Langley, blamed Haugen for failing to convince Democrats in the House to support the bill. She countered that Barlean wanted his own version of the bill to pass in the House so he could get the credit.Haugen cemented House Democrat support for the bill this week when Island County newspapers received a letter signed by Frank Chopp, Democratic Speaker of the House, and Lynn Kessler, Democratic Majority Leader in the House, pledging their support for the bill. The bill absolutely needs to be voted on and passed, they stated.Sehlin was flabbergasted by the unusual pledge sent to area newspapers. Its only purpose was to embarrass Kelly and I in our own district, he said Tuesday.But Sehlin said he will use the letter for positive purposes to get the bill passed. It has been strongly supported by Island County economic development interests.Frank Chopp wrote the letter and I'll hold his feet to the fire, Sehlin said.Sehlin and Haugen agreed that the rural county bill's chances of passing this year are iffy. Sehlin said it can only happen if the Legislature is called back to Olympia to vote on a transportation package. Haugen concurred, and both expressed pessimism Tuesday that such a vote will take place.If not, the rural county bill will have to wait until next January when, Sehlin said, It's got a 100 percent chance.Haugen said, If it doesn't pass now we'll do it the first of January. It'll pass right away.Gov. Gary Locke called a third special session to address transportation needs. Sehlin, cho-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Haugen, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, both support a gas tax hike and other new revenue to increase transportation spending.Sehlin said that last Thursday the Senate and House leadership were in near agreement on a transportation package. But then the media played up the 9 cent gas tax hike over three years. I'm really disappointed, Sehlin said, alluding to large gas tax headlines in Seattle's two daily newspapers, adding that talk radio focused narrowly on the gas tax. The result was a flood of angry calls to legislators.Sehlin said the package would have doubled the gas tax rate in Pierce, Snohomish and King counties to allow them to pay more for freeway improvements. He saw that as a benefit to Island County.Haugen said the package would purchase four new ferries and provide $3 million for park and ride lots in Island County. But right now its outlook is bleak because there aren't enough votes to pass it in the House.What you've got is people who talk to talk radio, she said. "

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