March 22, 2011 in City

House panel won’t put gas tax hike on ballot this year

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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OLYMPIA – Washington voters will not be asked to raise gas taxes or any other tax related to roads this fall. 2012, however, could be different.

As they announced the House proposal for an $8.9 billion transportation budget, the chairwoman and top Republican on the House Transportation Committee agreed Monday that there’d be no ballot measure sent to voters asking for a tax increase to pay for more road projects this year.

Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said there would be one “sometime in the future,” and that could be as soon as 2012. Some of the state’s transportation accounts will dip into the red by then.

The state will need more money eventually for some new projects, including future phases of Spokane’s north-south freeway, said state Rep. Mike Armstrong, of Wenatchee, the panel’s ranking Republican. But he’s not willing to support an increase in the gas tax yet.

“New revenue is going to be needed. I’m not sure a gas tax is going to be part of it,” Armstrong said.

The proposed House Transportation budget sets aside some $72 million over the next two years for the Spokane roadway – also known as the North Spokane Corridor – about $27 million of it from a special account fed by the extra 5-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline that voters approved in 2003. Most nickel-gas-tax projects will wrap up in the next two years, but the tax won’t go away; it will be used to pay off the bonds sold to construct those projects.

The House transportation budget also proposes spending $12 million to replace the 63-year-old Keller Ferry across the Columbia River between Ferry and Lincoln counties; for road projects on Havana Street, Bigelow Gulch Road and for the Geiger Spur rail project; and for six bicycle and pedestrian safety projects around Spokane. The release of the budget is just the beginning of hearings in the House, and the Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to release its spending plan this afternoon.

In announcing their spending plan, committee members said the $8.9 billion budget would create some 43,000 jobs while being fiscally responsible. Gasoline taxes are less reliable as a source of money for road projects than in the past because of higher gas mileage in new cars and decreased driving by motorists, they said.

“There’s really no silver bullet that would save us from decreasing gas tax revenues,” said Clibborn, who added she wasn’t looking at any new revenue source other than a gas tax. Armstrong said Republicans were “looking at a bunch of options,” which he declined to detail.

Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, the committee’s vice chairman, argued that raising the gas tax on a per-gallon basis really should not be seen as an increase on motorists because they’d be paying about the same amount in taxes with their fuel-efficient cars. “It’s really keeping steady as gas use declines.”


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