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Gas tax hike closer

House, Senate rates same; projects differ

OLYMPIA – Transportation projects in the city of Spokane would get more money, but projects in Spokane Valley would get less, in the Washington Legislature’s second proposal to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 11.7 cents. House Democrats released a $15 billion proposal to hike the gas tax to raise money for road and bridge construction. Like the earlier Senate plan, it would raise gasoline taxes by 5 cents per gallon next year, 4.2 cents in 2017 and 2.5 cents in 2018. It would also raise weight fees on cars and trucks.

Unlike the Senate proposal, however, it does not shift sales tax collected on transportation projects from the general fund into the accounts that pay for road projects. Instead it relies on nearly $1.3 billion in savings from “practical design” changes to existing road and bridge projects, which would be available to spend on new projects. House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn said the Transportation Department has had a tendency to “over-design” some projects in recent years, resulting in higher costs.

The House plan also does not remove funding for some projects if the state enacts stricter carbon pollution standards. That provision in the Senate proposal is called a “consumer protection clause” by Republicans and a “poison pill” by Democrats because Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing for carbon reductions to fight global climate change.

Clibborn said carbon reduction is important, but any change should be a separate discussion from a package of transportation projects the Legislature has been studying, but unable to pass, for two years.

Both plans would set aside $750 million to complete the North Spokane Corridor in their lists of more than $8 billion of transportation projects. The House budget also would spend $8.8 million to construct the University District Gateway Bridge, a project not listed in the Senate proposal, and $18 million on the Spokane Transit Authority’s proposed Central City Line, compared to $10 million in the Senate plan.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Spokane Democrat who sits on the committee, called the proposal a good package for the city of Spokane and said it would “start addressing the congestion and connectivity issues that are holding us back.”

Missing from the House plan are several projects in the Interstate 90 corridor that are in the Senate plan: $21 million for a stretch between Barker and Harvard Roads, $26.5 million for an interchange at Henry Road and $4.4 million for the Medical Lake and Geiger interchanges. The Senate plan would also spend $19.5 million for a Barker Road grade separation.

The final list of projects is still subject to negotiations, Riccelli said, but inclusion of Spokane Valley projects may depend on support for the overall package from 4th District legislators, who generally oppose tax increases.

The Senate proposal has already passed that chamber, and the new House plan is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday. Clibborn said that once it passes the committee, she believes negotiations will begin in earnest with Senate leaders. The session has only two weeks left, but that could be enough to reach an agreement that eluded the Legislature in 2013 and 2014.

“It doesn’t take you months to negotiate if you really, really want to negotiate,” she said.


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