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GOP: Reform before gas tax hike

OLYMPIA – Legislative Republicans say they will not vote for a gas tax increase or other new vehicle taxes until the state makes major reforms in the way it builds big road projects.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who has urged the Legislature to find new money for road and bridge projects, agreed the state Transportation Department needs reforms to restore public confidence. But he doesn’t think the state should delay a decision on taxes for new projects and needed maintenance.

“We cannot allow these problems to derail us,” Inslee said.

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Legislature could raid Sno-Park funds from snowmobilers, nordic skiers

WINTER SPORTS — The Washington Legislature is toying with proposals that could divert dedicated gas-tax funds from established and popular Sno-Park programs. These are the programs, such as those at Mount Spokane, that plow parking areas and groom trails for snowmobiling, cross-country skiers, snowshoers and other winter recreation.

Some recreation groups say there's nothing to fear from the proposals, but the issues should be carefully followed.

See the latest on what some contend is an attempt to raid an important winter recreation component of the state's economy in this story by Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic.

WA Lege Day 71: Gas tax hike unlikely on this year’s ballot

OLYMPIA — Washington voters will not be asked to raise gas taxes or any other tax related to roads, at least not this fall. 2012, however, is another matter.

As they announced the House proposal for an $8.9 billion transportation budget, the chairwoman and ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee agreed Monday that there'd be no request for a tax increase to pay for more road projects this year.

“Sometime in the future” Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said.

The state will need more money eventually for some ongoing projects, including Spokane's North-South Freeway, Rep. Mike Armstrong of Wenatchee, the panel's ranking Republican said. 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 freeway, also known as the North Spokane Corridor, about $27 million of it from a special account fed by the extra five-cent per gallon tax on gasoline voters approved in 2003.

But gasoline taxes are not the reliable source of money for road projects that they were in the past because of higher gas mileage in new cars and decreased driving by motorists, committee members said.
Clibborn said she wasn't looking at any new revenue sources beyond a gas tax but Armstrong said Republicans were “looking at a bunch of options”, which he declined to detail.

“There's really no silver bullet that would save us from decreasing gas tax revenues,” Clibborn said.

Rep. Marko Liais, D-Edmonds, the committee's vice chairman, argued that raising the gas tax on a per gallon basis really should 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.”

Guv campaign rekindles gas tax debate

There’s good reason why Washington plates are such a common sight at Idaho gas stations near the state line in North Idaho - gas is just plain cheaper in Idaho. Among the reasons: Washington’s 37.5 cent-per-gallon gas tax is a full 12.5 cents higher than Idaho’s, which has stood at 25 cents a gallon since 1996.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has spent several years unsuccessfully trying to persuade state lawmakers to raise Idaho’s gas tax to boost funding for road maintenance in the state. Now, as he seeks a second term in office, his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, is proposing the opposite: He wants to lower the tax to 22 cents per gallon, and up fees on heavy trucks to make up the difference. The debate in Idaho comes as the state’s long-unchanged per-gallon tax, combined with increased fuel efficiency, has led to stagnant funding for roads despite growing traffic. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

A catch in the session-ending transportation funding deal…

More than 30 years ago, Idaho’s boaters, snowmobilers, dirt-bikers and ATV riders made a deal: They’d give up their gas tax refunds for gas burned off-road if the state would direct that tax money to trails, boat launches and the like. It worked. While farmers and log-truck drivers still get refunds for gas taxes paid on gas that actually gets burned off-road, off-road recreationists don’t, but they benefit from $4.8 million a year that goes to waterways improvements, off-road trails, park roads and bridges and search and rescue.

Now, however, a session-ending deal between lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter to divert that gas tax money to road maintenance has the recreationists steamed. “If they want to take that back, then give us the refunds back,” said Tom Crimmins, a Hayden Lake trails consultant and retired forester. And if the state needs more money for road work, he said, it should raise the gas tax. Crimmins spoke out at the last state Parks Board meeting in Boise, and motorized recreation groups around the state are organizing to oppose the funding deal. “There’s going to be some petition drives, we’ll probably have some bumper stickers and buttons,” Crimmins said. And when a special legislative task force starts meeting later this summer to address possible alternative funding sources for parks and for the Idaho State Police, which also would lose millions in gas tax funding a year from now under the deal, “We plan to be there en masse,” Crimmins said.

The recreationists are particularly upset because during this year’s legislative session, they successfully worked to raise their own ATV registration fees from $10 to $12 a year. The increase, which takes effect Jan. 1, will go half to law enforcement, and half to the state Department of Lands, to offset any damage caused by off-road recreation on state lands.

“I think they have a legitimate concern,” said state Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, one of eight members of the special legislative task force. Hammond said when he voted for the road deal, he wasn’t aware of the history behind the trail funding. “At that point in the session, you’re almost willing to vote for anything to get out of there,” he said. “Now we have to face the fact that we have some real issues that we created as a result of that, and we’ve got to fix it. It’s going to be tough.” You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review; the legislative task force holds its first meeting June 30.

Legislative task force sets first meeting

The eight-member legislative task force that was created this year as part of a session-ending transportation funding deal between Gov. Butch Otter and lawmakers has set its first meeting for June 30 at 10 a.m. at the Capitol Annex. The panel is charged with identifying alternative funding sources for the Idaho State Police and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, which are scheduled to lose millions in gas tax funding on July 1, 2010, with that gas tax money to instead shift to road work. Here’s who’s on the legislative panel: It will be co-chaired by Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the two lawmakers who also chair the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Task force members include Sens. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston; Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls; and Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello; and Reps. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry; Raul Labrador, R-Eagle; and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

ITHO: Fight Isn’t About Gas Tax

So, this fight isn’t really over the gas tax, it is a fight about the future of the Republican Party in Idaho. Will the far right conservatives fully subsume the Republican Party? Will they eventually oust Butch Otter as being too “moderate”? Will they impose some far right litmus test for belonging to the Republican Party (labeling everyone else RINO’s – Republican In Name Only)? Will they close their primary elections forcing people to register for their party to vote in their primary – all at public expense? FYI - a decision on a lawsuit - brought by the far right - to force the closing their party primary election is currently pending in front of Judge Winmill. All of these pressures are forcing Republican legislators to move inexorably further to the right/Sen. Elliott Werk (pictured), Working For Idaho. More here. H/T: Unequivocal Notion.

Question: Do you think Sen. Werk’s conclusion is correct — that the standoff over gas taxes really is about the attempt by ultraconservative Repubs who control the House to gain greater control of the Idaho GOP?

Tea Party Rally Set In Boise Today

The IVA is joining with Tea Party Idaho, the organization that sponsored the hugely successful Tea Party rally on April 15, to host Tea Party II today at 12 noon at the Capitol Annex. The Annex is the old Ada County Courthouse, and is the temporary home of the Idaho legislature while the state capitol undergoes renovation. It is across the street just east of the capitol building. The brief 30 minute rally will be held to strengthen the resolve of the Idaho House to hold firm in its resistance to any increase in the gas tax that Idaho families pay at the pump/Bryan Fischer, Idaho Values Alliance. More here.

Question: Do you support the Tea Party that will be held in Boise today to oppose Gov. Butch Otter’s insistence on a gas tax increase?

Lawmakers call for look at paying road taxes by the mile, rather than at the gas pump…

From today’s story about the Senate transportation plan:

The Senate is also calling for a study of how the state, which relies heavily on gas tax revenue to pay for roads, can keep paying those bills as motorists continue switching to high-mileage and electric vehicles.

“We have a long-term problem: Cars are getting more efficient, and people are driving less,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. While that may be good for the environment, it also means that the state is collecting less gas tax than expected.

In fact, Haugen said, it now looks like recent gas tax increases that were expected to pay for 16 years’ worth of transportation projects will be used up by 2015. So the budget also calls for a study of how else to get people to pay to use the roads.

“The fact is, gas tax is the most unreliable tax going forward,” said Haugen. “I don’t know what the fuel of the future will be, but I doubt it will be petroleum.”

Several lawmakers said Wednesday that the state may eventually have a “vehicle miles traveled” tax based on how much people drive. Haugen also said that toll roads will become more common.

“We’re looking at those sorts of things. They’re years away,” said Sen. Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island.

(State Sen. Chris) Marr said he’s talked with electric-car advocates about whether they’re willing to pay a tax in lieu of gas tax. They seemed open to the idea, he said.

“Let’s face it, (electric cars) create wear and tear and congestion on the highway system,” said Marr. It’s not fair, he said, for the costs to be born just by gas and diesel users.