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House Transportation Committee urged to raise gas tax, vehicle fees during hearing

OLYMPIA – A steady stream of business leaders and local government officials urged a House panel to raise the gasoline tax and several other vehicle fees and spend the projected $15 billion on roads, bridges, mass transit and ferries.

Although some listed highway or bridge projects that they think should be added to the proposed list, most speakers who came before the House Transportation Committee in the three-hour hearing said they supported an 11.7 cent increase in the state gas tax that passed the Senate earlier this month. The proposal also has higher fees for vehicle weights, drivers and a new $5 fee on each new studded tire sold after Jan. 1, 2017.

The list of projects in Eastern Washington totals more than $1 billion, with money to complete the North Spokane Corridor, improvements to the Interstate 90 corridor between Barker and Harvard roads, a grade separation for Barker Road and money for Spokane’s Central City Line, said Jim Hedrick, a spokesman for Greater Spokane Incorporated. It will help the Spokane area “meet the demands of companies we want to recruit,” he said.

Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson said he supported the gas tax, but wondered if the state could add some money for an interchange to Henry Road, for which the city was willing to put up $16 million. The city of Spokane Valley supports statewide measures to improve transportation, said Alex Soldano, a lobbyist for the city.

The mayor of Seattle, a Pullman city councilman, representatives of Chambers of Commerce and port districts, business organizations and union leaders all urged the House Transportation Committee to support the combination of higher taxes and expanded transportation projects.

The Washington Oil Marketers Association, a trade group for the petroleum industry, traditionally opposes high gasoline taxes and the state’s current level of 37.5 cents is 12.5 cents higher than Idaho, so it puts border communities at a disadvantage, said Rob Smith, association spokesman. It “doesn’t necessarily support” the proposed increase, but it definitely opposes the low carbon fuel standards Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing, Smith said.

Inslee has proposed a carbon cap-and-trade system rather than a gas tax increase, with money going to both transportation projects and general state spending. The Senate transportation proposal calls for reductions in money that would go to mass transit if the low carbon fuel standards are enacted.

Jessica Finn Coven, Washington director of Climate Solutions, criticized what some call a “poison pill” on carbon fuel standards. It would force the state into a tradeoff between transit and cleaner fuels, she said.

Bruce Speight, director of the Washington Public Interest Research Group, argued the spending priorities in the list of projects was “backwards” and should spend far more on road repair and maintenance and mass transit, and less on major highway expansions because people are driving less.

The committee hasn’t yet scheduled a meeting to amend or approve the proposal.


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