Washington state Senate eyes fuel tax hike to pay for roads

| Monday, April 11, 2005

If Senate transportation policymakers in Washington state get their way, drivers there could pay a lot more fuel tax at the pump to help pay for roads and bridges.

The road-building plan would raise $9.1 billion over the next 16 years with the aid of a 15-cent-per-gallon fuel tax boost over the next 12 years.

Senate Transportation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, and ranking Republican Dan Swecker of Rochester formed the bipartisan plan – SB6103.

Supporters said the package was the only way to pay for necessary projects such as the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle and a new state Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, linking Seattle and Bellevue, as well as congestion relief, farm-to-market projects and local roads across the state.

Opponents ripped the plan, saying it should be referred to voters for final approval if it clears the Legislature.

The plan would bump the state’s 28-cents-per-gallon fuel tax by 3 cents a gallon this summer, 2 cents next year and a penny a year after that for the next 10 years. The Legislature raised it from 23 cents a year ago.

It also includes a new vehicle weight fee that would add between $5 and $25 to the annual licensing fee, as well as tolls and local-option tax increases for cities and counties.

Gov. Christine Gregoire praised the plan.

“The Senate Transportation Committee’s proposal is focused on safety – making our highways and bridges safer for motorists who use them,” Gregoire said in a statement. “And they have made a good start in addressing what often seem to be overwhelming needs of our transportation system.”

Despite the governor’s endorsement, floor votes on the initiative were delayed last week as Swecker and Haugen reportedly hustled for enough votes to get it through the Senate. If approved, it would move to the House, where Transportation Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, is floating his own plan.

Murray’s package, which has yet to be released, is expected to be smaller. It likely will call for increasing the state’s fuel tax 10 cents over the next two years or by 3 cents each of the next three years.

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