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House gas-tax package: More money for city, less for Valley

OLYMPIA – Transportation projects in the city of Spokane would get more money, but projects in the Valley would get less in the Legislature’s second proposal to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 11.7 cents and raise billions for road and bridge construction.

House Democrats released a $15 billion proposal, which, like the earlier Senate plan, 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, which now goes into 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, a provision in the Senate proposal that Republicans call a “consumer protection clause” but Democrats have labeled a “poison pill” because Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing for carbon reductions in an effort to fight global climate change.

Clibborn said those carbon reduction is important, but any change should be a separate discussion from a package of transportation projects the Legislature has been studying discussion, 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 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 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. Once it passes the committee, Clibborn said 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. 

WaLeg Day 74: Senate gas tax hike gets heavy support in House committee

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 had highway or bridge projects 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, Jim Hedrick, a spokesman for Greater Spokane Incorporated, said. 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, Alex Soldano, a lobbyist for the city, said.

The mayor of Seattle and 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 that 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.

WALeg Day 50: Gas tax hike passes Senate 27-22

OLYMPIA — A package of higher taxes and fees which would raise gasoline taxes by 11.7 cents over three years passed the Senate on a 27-22 vote.
It then approved a list of some $15 billion worth of projects those taxes and fees would support — nearly $1 billion of it in the Spokane area — on a 41-8 vote.
A bipartisan group of supporters conceded it wasn't a perfect plan but said it would get better as it continues through the Legislature, The bill now goes to the House, which is opposed to some shifts in money from the state's general fund to transportation projects.
Within minutes of its passage, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, issued a statement that "the bad outweighs the good".
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he would vote for the first transportation package in his 23 years in the Legislature because  it provides for road projects all around the state, not just large projects in a few locations like gasoline taxes in 2003 and 2005. 
Opponents, who included some of the chamber's most conservative Republicans and some of its most liberal Democrats, criticized how the bill would raise money and where it is expected to be spent.
"My district, mostly rural, is going to be effected horribly by this," Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, said. Washington would have one of the nation's highest gasoline taxes, along with the highest state minimum wage, a combination that could drive out businesses, he said.
A vote on the tax package was delayed from Friday when Democrats asked whether it would need a two-thirds supermajority to move through the Senate. 
When senators returned to the floor this morning, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen said it would, if that rule was constitutional. But it's not, he added.
"The Senate may adopt an unconstitutional rule, but the president will not enforce it," he told senators, who then delayed for a second time a vote on the tax and fee package needed for a multi-billion dollar plan of large transportation projects, maintenance, ferry construction and mass transit.
On the first day of the 2015 session, the Republican-led majority changed Senate rules to require a two-thirds majority to move any new tax to its final vote. At the time, the change was seen as heading off taxes being discussed by Gov. Jay Inslee, such as a carbon fuel tax or a capital gains tax,  
That rule hadn't been tested until Friday, when the Senate began consideration of a series of changes to the state's transportation policy and a revenue package that would raise an estimated $15 billion over 16 years, much of it from an 11.7 cent increase in the gasoline tax over a three-year period.
Before that could come up for a vote, however, Democrats asked if it needed a two-thirds majority to move to a final vote. Owen, who rules on such parliamentary questions, said he'd have to study the issue and the vote was put off until today.
The gas tax isn't new, but some things in the proposal are. Owen said. Those include weight fees that will be used for a variety of transportation purposes, and an increase for some people renewing their vehicle licenses, which would be used for ferry construction. Described in the bill as fees, they are clearly taxes, Owen said, and the entire bill as written would need a two-thirds vote under the new rule.
But is the rule constitutional? Sen. Steve Hobbs asked.
Owen, who said he and his office had been researching that question since before the session started and was clearly prepared to answer, said no, it is not. The state's constitution requires simple majority votes for "ordinary legislation", and the gas tax bill falls under that umbrella, he said.
"The president has no choice but to follow the dictates of the Constitution," Owen said.
A vote on the bill was delayed, the Senate went at ease and both parties went into caucus to discuss their next moves. They came back at 12:30 p.m. and began debate.
Before the debate, began, however, Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, essentially told Owen his ruling was wrong and the rule change was constitutional.
"We disagree," Baumgartner said. "For the time being, we're going to move forward and look at other options in the future."
We'll update the story as it develops.

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.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

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.