Washington Senate approves 11-cent fuel tax, truck fee increases

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/4/2015

Washington state lawmakers are moving forward with plans for a 16-year, $15 billion transportation package that includes a fuel tax increase and other vehicle fee increases.

Senators voted 27-22 on Monday, March 2, to advance the lead bill in a multi-bill funding package to the House for further consideration. The main component of the plan would increase the state’s 37.5-cent-per-gallon tax rate to 49.2 cents by the summer of 2017.

The rate increase would give Washington State the second-highest fuel tax rate in the nation – behind only Pennsylvania.

The Evergreen State’s fuel tax rate would increase by 11.7 cents over three years. A nickel increase would take effect on July 1. An additional 4.2-cent increase would kick in July 1, 2016, followed by a 2.5-cent increase the following July.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, called the funding plan led by SB5987 a “game changer.”

“Our state’s infrastructure is at a crossroads and the passage of this plan comes at an absolutely critical time,” Hobbs said in a news release. “This plan will continue to have critics. I am one of them. No deal is perfect; that’s the nature of compromise.”

Revenue from the fuel tax increase would be routed to the newly created Connecting Washington Account within the Motor Vehicle Fund.

Excluded from the funding plan is Gov. Jay Inslee’s initiative to charge fees to carbon and industrial polluters, such as the oil and gas industry, to pay for transportation work. The Democratic governor’s proposed cap-and-trade system is billed as an alternative to the fuel tax increase.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the bipartisan action will get the state’s economy moving, fix crumbling roadways and provide more accountability for transportation revenue.

“We delivered on reforms protecting taxpayers from cost overruns on the Seattle tunnel project and other megaprojects,” Schoesler stated. He also said the bill package would provide protections from the governor’s pursuit of “burdensome fuel standards similar to California without legislative approval.”

Certain vehicle fees are also included in the funding plan. Specifically for large trucks, fees would increase on July 1, 2016, as follows:

  • CDL reinstatement would increase from $20 to $35;
  • CDL instruction permit would increase from $10 to $40;
  • CDL knowledge exam would increase from $10 to $35;
  • CDL classified skills exam would increase from $100 to $250; and
  • Enhanced driver’s licenses and identicards would increase from $15 to $54.

Also approved by the Senate is a list of projects the tax and fee increases would support. SB5988 includes funding to complete the state Route 520 bridge, widening Interstate 405 from Bellevue to Renton, and improvements to I-90 on Snoqualmie Pass.

The Senate also approved redirecting sales and use tax money form transportation projects to the Connecting Washington Account instead of the state’s general fund.

Another part of the plan advancing to the House would add “congestion relief and improved freight mobility” to the state’s transportation goals.

In all, the transportation package consists of 11 bills: eight reform bills, a bond bill, a revenue bill and a spending bill.

Hobbs said the package addresses the needs of the state.

“Every corner of our state is in dire need of upgrades to roads, bridges, rail, bike and pedestrian paths and transit options. This package addresses those needs.”

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