Washington governor unveils $3.6 billion transportation plan

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/11/2012

Gov. Chris Gregoire is calling on Washington state lawmakers to pass a $3.6 billion transportation package. Truckers are accustomed to efforts to raise money, and professional drivers would be called on to foot some of the bill.

In her State of the State speech on Tuesday, Jan. 10, the governor said her 10-year plan to fund roads, bridges and ferries through fee increases would help ease a shortfall in available money for improvements. A specific list of transportation projects that would benefit was not included in her remarks.

“We can’t wait until roads, bridges and ferries are falling apart to fix them,” Gregoire told a joint session of the Legislature. “We can’t kick the can down the road and saddle our future generations with the repairs we failed to make.”

A governor-appointed task force recently recommended that Washington state raise $20 billion during the next 10 years to fund the state’s transportation system. The “Connecting Washington Task Force” offered possible funding methods that included fuel tax increases, higher vehicle fees and tolls.

One of the panel’s recommendations endorsed by Gregoire is a 15 percent increase in the gross vehicle weight fee for trucks. Most truck drivers pay about $1,700 annually to license their vehicles. The governor’s plan would add another $250 to their expenses.

Charging higher license fees for trucks is expected to net the state $177 million.

Other fee increases touted by the Democratic governor include charging a $1.50 per barrel fee on oil refined in the state and adding a $100 fee to electric vehicles.

The oil fee is projected to boost revenue for various transportation improvements by $2.7 billion.

“Our oil companies are getting all the profit and leaving us with the bill,” Gregoire stated. “We can do better.”

Republicans were skeptical of the oil fee. They say the fee would amount to a tax increase on truckers and others at the fuel pump.

Twice in the past decade Washington state lawmakers approved transportation packages that relied on increases in the fuel tax and other fees to pay for 421 projects around the state. However, the ongoing tax collections from the previous deals will soon solely cover debt payments on the projects.

As a result, the state must come up with new funding methods to get transportation work done.

OOIDA officials call for the responsible use of taxpayer dollars.

Association leadership states in its list of highway funding principles that OOIDA “will continue to support efforts geared toward dedicating a higher percentage of Highway Trust Fund spending toward highway needs.”

State lawmakers will work on specifics of the governor’s plan, and any other transportation funding bills, during the session that began Monday, Jan. 9.

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