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December 21, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Seattle, King County and suburbs: Raise gas tax 8 cents, raise car-tab taxes

Elected officials in the Seattle area are uniting on a wish list for the 2013 Legislature: three potential tax increases for highway, street and bike-pedestrian programs, while sustaining service to about 400,000 daily riders on King County Metro Transit.

The proposal would boost gas taxes 8 cents, split 65 percent for state highways and ferries and 35 percent for local transportation funds, similar to the current split of gas taxes.  Cities and counties could also adopt a car-tab fee of $40 for transportation, by a vote of their elected officials.

And a countywide car-tab tax of up to $150 per $10,000 of vehicle value would go to transit and roads.  Counties could decide either to enact it themselves, or put it to a citizen ballot, said Fred Jarrett, deputy King County executive. Metro would get 60 percent, while a 40 percent roads share would be divided among the county road fund and various cities, based on population, said Jarrett. Even then, some lesser-used county roads would be allowed to revert to gravel — right now the county spends only one-fourth what it should on repaving and maintenance, he said.  Other counties may prefer a lower rate of $100 on a $10,000 vehicle, the letter says.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine signed the letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire, dated Dec. 14,  joined by Renton Mayor Denis Law, board president of the 35-member Sound Cities Association (formerly the Suburban Cities Association).

This is just one of perhaps a half-dozen proposals for a transportation tax-and-spend plans being drafted by local, state or business groups — so it should be taken as a starting point not an endpoint for political horsetrading in 2013.

Earlier this week, Gregoire proposed to gradually increase wholesale gas taxes by 2017 to pay for school bus transportation, so that school districts would save $900 million per biennium and apply that to classroom instruction. But the retiring Gregoire didn’t propose new taxes for billions in desired DOT expansions and maintenance, while new Gov.-elect Jay Inslee has yet to air his views. State Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, is skeptical about Gregoire’s strategy but has predicted a fuel tax increase for general highway and street uses.

As I-5 in Western Washington slowly wears out, a more immediate crisis faces King County Metro, where an existing $20 car-tab yearly fee expires in mid-2014, leaving the agency to find other money or slash service, while Metro is expecting to break ridership records by next year.

In Renton, Law is hoping the state can relieve congestion on I-405, said city spokeswoman Preeti Shridhar. Potential state projects include an overpass to connect the I-405 carpool lanes to Highway 167, and I-405 lane widenings that would be partly funded by tolls on solo drivers using the carpool lanes.

Comments | More in Government, Traffic & Transit | Topics: Dow Constantine, King County Metro Transit, Mayor Mike McGinn

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