A proposal to increase the local gasoline tax to fix Spokane county and city streets is going before voters in November.
And they may just approve it.
A recent poll shows more than 40 percent of the county’s registered voters would say “Yes” to paying 2.3 cents per gallon more in local gas taxes to repair the roads. Another 15 percent say they are likely to say “yes.”
Five Spokane business associations paid for the June survey conducted by Moore Information of Portland. The poll of 300 people split between county and city residents touched on several issues related to streets and paying for their repairs.
More than two-thirds of those surveyed described city and county roads as “bad.” Nearly three-quarters want government to spend more to fix them, particularly on work like sealing cracks and filling potholes.
The fact that voters seemed willing to increase their own taxes for roads pleasantly surprised some officials, who are hoping the extra pennies would help rescue the streets from their crumbling condition.
“It’s certainly an encouraging start,” City Manager Bill Pupo said Tuesday.
“It surprised me in that voters turned down the bond issue for the city so overwhelmingly,” said county Commissioner John Roskelley. “We’re looking at a survey that says 57 percent support this.”
County commissioners on Tuesday committed to putting the gas tax on the November ballot. They won’t take formal action on the issue until next month.
Slightly more than half the residents surveyed said they preferred increasing their gas taxes for street repairs - rather than increasing property taxes or vehicle license fees.
In fact, when asked specifically, those polled overwhelmingly spurned a proposed $15 increase in the vehicle registration tax.
That rejection didn’t surprise Commissioner Kate McCaslin. “I never even seriously considered that,” she said. “My sense was that people were incredibly against it. That’s a pretty big hit for most folks.”
The Spokane City Council went to commissioners last May, pleading they put some sort of tax increase before voters this fall.
The proposed gas tax increase would raise about $4.7 million countywide. About $2.7 million of that would go to the county, $1.8 million to the city, and $200,000 to smaller towns.
On Monday, Spokane council members approved preliminary plans to borrow $2.66 million from a bank to fix five of the city’s worst streets. They hope to use increased gas tax revenues to repay the loan.
At least one elected official cautioned an increase in gas taxes won’t be a magical cure for the city’s streets.
“It isn’t the final solution,” said Mayor Jack Geraghty. “But it certainly would be a help.”
Ken Dunham, who lobbies the state Legislature for more dollars for local streets, agreed.
“This is not going to fix the problem. This is a start,” said Dunham of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors, which helped pay for the survey. “The problems are much greater than 2.3 cents are going to fix.”
The poll was commissioned by the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors, the Spokane Good Roads Association and the Inland Automobile Association.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: How should Spokane’s streets be fixed?