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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

November 12, 2013 at 7:51 PM

Big issues remain, but Senate GOP open to gas-tax hike

State Senate Republicans are willing to consider a gas-tax increase of 11.5 cents a gallon for highway and ferry construction, and even to allow new local taxes for King County Metro Transit, according to a proposal forged over the holiday weekend.

It would avoid the tolling of Interstate 90 to help pay for construction of the nearby Highway 520 floating bridge — by allocating $1.3 billion from new gas taxes toward the Highway 520 account.

The biggest project is still $1.66 billion for extensions of Highways 509 and 167 between Seattle and Tacoma, which are freight routes between seaports, warehouses and airports. There’s also $1.3 billion to widen I-405, $750 million for the North Spokane freeway, $390 million for Snoqualmie Pass East, $350 million for highways around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, $219 million to rebuild the Seattle ferry terminal at Colman Dock, and $1.05 billion toward maintenance. Here’s the project list.

King County could send to the ballot a car-tab tax increase of up to $150 per $10,000 of vehicle value, to be split 60 percent for transit and 40 percent for county and city roads. Other car-tab fees of $20 to $60 are also conceivable for county roads and transit. Not only that, but Community Transit in Snohomish County could ask voters for a sales-tax boost of 3 cents per $10 purchase.

The transit-tax option will likely please urban Democrats, but there’s a big sticking point. The Majority Coalition Caucus, consisting of Senate Republicans plus maverick Democrats Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, are also proposing that sales taxes on road construction be kept in the road funds, instead of flowing into the general fund. That would mean less money for schools, social services, environmental oversight or criminal justice.

And there are possible cost cuts around the margins, by reducing apprenticeship programs, watchdogging wage rates, and reducing environmental permit rules. The I-5 Columbia River Crossing is left out.

“Congestion relief” would be added to the state’s official transportation goals.

Whether this can pass both the GOP-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House is unclear. Committee meetings are expected next week.

The entire 10-year, $12.3 billion proposal phases in gas taxes the first three years, and requires $4.2 billion bond debt that would ring up interest costs for a couple of decades.

Comments | More in Politics Northwest, State Legislature | Topics: Majority Coalition Caucus, transportation, Washington State Legislature


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