Washington state any closer to transportation funding deal?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/9/2013

Washington state officials are continuing talks on a transportation funding plan that could make the state’s fuel tax rate the third highest in the nation.

State lawmakers have spent much of the year working on a funding deal that would satisfy state Democrats and Republicans.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee and House Democrats pursued a plan to raise nearly $9 billion for roads and bridges through a tax package that included raising the state’s 37.5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon. Funding was also included for the Columbia River Crossing project in Vancouver.

Republicans instead called for a transportation reform package. Senate Transportation Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, said at the time it was necessary to help ensure the state is stretching every dollar it has.

In recent weeks the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has advocated a $12.3 billion transportation package. The plan would increase the state’s fuel tax by 11.5 cents to 49 cents per gallon.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed a transportation funding plan last month that is expected to result in a diesel tax rate of 65.9 cents per gallon and gas tax rate of 47.7 cents by 2017. Connecticut now collects 54 cents per gallon in state fuel taxes.

The coalition plan from 23 Republicans and two Democrats in Washington state calls for redirecting sales tax money from transportation projects to a transportation fund instead of the state’s general fund.

In addition, the group wants to pay for the new State Route 520 floating bridge with fuel tax revenue instead of by charging tolls.

Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, has called for the same approach for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The bridge was paid for through bond sales, which are being repaid through tolls.

He wants to see toll rates revert back to 2012 levels. Tolls increased on July 1 this year and another rate increase is set for next summer.

“If we are going to raise gas taxes, part of that must be used to restore simple fairness to our bridge users,” Seaquist said in a news release.

Transportation funding talks are expected to continue this week as lawmakers look for a solution. The governor has said he wants a funding deal on his desk by the end of this month.

If lawmakers fail to reach a deal before the end of the year, they can bring the issue up again during the regular session that begins Jan. 13, 2014.

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