Washington governor seeks highway funding, again

| Friday, December 14, 2001

Washington Governor Gary Locke earlier this week rekindled a $13.6 billion plan to tackle the state's transportation woes. Locke also asked lawmakers to approve higher truck registration fees, add a 3-cent-a-gallon surcharge for diesel fuel and impose a small surtax on car sales.

The proposal, which is basically the same proposal that died in the state legislature last summer, would be anchored by a 9-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase that would raise about $8.5 billion over 10 years to pay for road and bridge projects across the state. It would also pay for ferry improvements and better rail and mass transit. The fuel tax would be boosted by 3 cents a year for three years. The tax, currently 23 cents a gallon, would rise to 32 cents by the third year.

Locke offered few specifics on why he thinks his proposal can succeed now, other than saying it is "the right thing." His plan stalled in the House last July because many lawmakers thought it was too expensive and wanted the public, not the legislature, to have final say on the fuel-tax increase. The governor, though, has insisted that with the economy slumping after the terrorist attacks, elected leaders must take quick and decisive action, rather than wait for a public vote next year.

OOIDA board member Charlie Parfrey of Spokane says the voters will not tolerate being bypassed regarding a tax increase. "If the legislature passes a tax increase without allowing the voters to have a say you can bet a referendum will quickly follow to put a vote to the people," says Parfrey. "And you can bet that the voters will put the increase to rest."

Some lawmakers have been floating a compromise in recent weeks to reduce the statewide tax package. An 8-cent fuel-tax increase, with 4 cents being approved by the legislature and 4 cents going to voters for approval is being discussed for a special election in the spring. The legislature is scheduled to begin a 60-day session Jan. 14.
--Keith Goble

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