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Election 2012: Washington voters weigh in on tax increases, road funds
By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor

Voters in Washington state decided last week to continue to require state lawmakers to get a two-thirds majority to approve any tax increase, which could include a fuel tax increase. Multiple local ballots around the state also included transportation funding questions.

Initiative 1185 was favored by about 64 percent of voters around the state. The initiative has passed five times since the 1990s.

Washington state law requires a two-thirds majority, or supermajority, in the Legislature to amend or repeal an initiative within two years after passage. However, lawmakers can suspend initiatives after two years with a simple majority vote.

The only other option to make tax changes would be a public vote.

Opponents said that the initiative allows a one-third majority in either chamber of the statehouse to prevent passage of any measure to raise revenue through taxes. They said it makes it nearly impossible to pass infrastructure improvements.

Supporters said the protection increases lawmakers’ willingness to compromise and prioritize spending.

Voters in three Washington locales decided on whether to increase sales taxes and levies to benefit roads and transit.

In Clark County, voters rejected an increase in the local sales tax to pay for light rail across the planned Interstate 5 bridge replacement. Specifically, Proposition 1 sought to raise the sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent in the service district to help pay for light rail operation and maintenance for C-Tran.

The proposed Columbia River Crossing project, with light rail, has a price tag of $3.5 billion. The tax would have raised about $2.5 million annually to pay for operation and maintenance of light rail across the structure.

Voters in one King County community decided to provide a boost to area roads and sidewalks.

About 55 percent of ballots in the city of Kirkland were in favor of increasing the street levy by a rate of 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to cover maintenance costs and pedestrian safety projects.

An estimated $3 million a year will be raised to benefit pothole repair and repaving. Sidewalks will also be added to many streets.

A couple of hours south on Interstate 5 in the city of Longview, voters said they don’t mind paying more for better roads. The vote was advisory only, meaning it is not binding.

Proposition 2 on the local ballot asked voters whether they think the city should impose a $20 annual license tab for road maintenance. It would raise $550,000 annually to double the city’s annual street budget to $1.1 million.

Vehicles exempt from the $20 fee would include large trucks and trailers.

Another I-5 locale to decide on transportation funding was Castle Rock. Voters there authorized a sales tax of up to two-tenths of 1 percent for 10 years to pay for road improvements.

Also, voters in the city of Lynden approved raising the sales tax by two tenths of 1 percent to help pay for road and bridge improvements. The 10-year tax is estimated to raise $300,000 annually.

For more 2012 election coverage from Land Line, click here.

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the story topic. Comments may be sent to mailto:state_legislative_editor@ooida.com.

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