Washington state House and Senate offer their own plans for roads

| 4/18/2005

Transportation policymakers in the Washington state House have joined their counterparts in the Senate by proposing higher fuel taxes to help pay for roadwork.

House lawmakers last week unveiled a budget plan that would raise $8.4 billion during the next 16 years with the aid of a 9.5-cents-per-gallon fuel tax boost in the next four years.

The Senate version goes further. It would generate $9.1 billion in the same time period with a 15 cents-per-gallon fuel tax hike in the next 12 years.

Washington’s state fuel tax currently is 28 cents per gallon – among the highest in the nation.

Both proposals call for money to go for projects such as the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle and a new Highway 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.

The new House plan, written by House Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, calls for a 3-cent-per-gallon increase in July for each of the next two years, 2 cents in July 2007 and a final 1.5-cent boost a year later.

The Senate package would bump the state’s 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.

Both plans include 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 to help pay for transportation projects.

Gov. Christine Gregoire called on House and Senate transportation leaders to work on a compromise, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. Lawmakers have less than a week remaining in their regular session. Insiders say the prospects for passing a major transportation package remain uncertain.

“Tax votes are always difficult,” Murray said. “The chances are not great, not bad, just good.”

His Senate counterpart, Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, welcomed the House plan, but said there are significant differences between the two proposals.

Murray told the newspaper she is holding out hope an agreement can be reached.

“We can’t walk away and do nothing,” she said.

The House transportation package bills are HB2312, HB2311 and HB1027. The Senate plans are SB6091 and SB6103.