Washington state funding plan a work in progress

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/15/2013

Competing plans offered at the Washington statehouse provide funding options that would increase the state’s fuel tax rate by a dime or pursue other methods to generate transportation revenue.

House Democrats offered a nearly $10 billion tax package that includes a 10-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase to pay for roads, bridges and transit work.

House Republicans have instead called on their counterparts to enact a transportation reform package before the conversation turns to increasing the state’s 37.5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax.

“A state gas tax increase of this size is something many people cannot afford,” Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said in a news release. Instead, he urged lawmakers “to see how we can make our gas tax dollars go further before we reach further into taxpayers’ pockets.”

He also pointed out that the fuel tax change would result in a tax rate that is twice as much as was charged a decade ago.

The Democratic plan would raise the fuel tax rate to 47.5 cents over five year. The $9.8 billion initiative includes provisions to increasing vehicle registration fees and charging a bicycle fee.

Projects that would benefit from the additional funding include widening Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, adding lanes to Interstate 405, and building the Columbia River Crossing. The project would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River and improve nearby interchanges.

Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma said the improvements sought in the bill are a much-needed step toward reducing gridlock.

“Our businesses that depend on a strong freight system will no longer see their livelihood tied up in traffic.” Fey stated.

House Republicans are offering alternatives to raising taxes and fees. They include bills to eliminate state and local sales tax on new transportation projects, require the state Department of Transportation to report to lawmakers engineering errors, limit WSDOT’s tort liability, and limit bond terms to 15 years.

Advocates say that cutting in half the 30-year term would help free up bonded fuel tax money earlier.

The Washington Legislature has until April 28 to reach agreement on a plan to pay for transportation work.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Washington, click here.

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