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Plan calls for hike in Washington gas tax

House Democrats propose new revenue to finance state transportation projects

Jonathan Kaminsky Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. – House Democrats unveiled a transportation revenue package Wednesday that would raise $9.8 billion over the next decade with the help of a 10-cent bump in the gas tax, a new annual car registration fee pegged at 0.7 percent of the vehicle’s value, and more than $3 billion in new bonds.

Also included is a new $25 fee on bicycles sold for $500 or more, which is expected to bring in $1 million over the next 10 years.

The plan, dubbed Connecting Washington, was introduced by Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, who is chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.

“We at this point have a choice. If we do nothing we will watch the infrastructure crumble,” said Clibborn. “Or we can unite. We can come together as House and Senate, as Democrats and Republicans, pass this bill, get the jobs on the ground and get the projects on the ground.”

Also included in the package is nearly $900 million raised from a 0.3 percent hike in the hazardous substance tax and almost $200 million generated from new county auditor fees of $5 for vehicle tab renewals and $12 for title transfers.

In addition to $1 billion for both the state and local governments to maintain infrastructure, the package is meant to fund $3 billion to help pay for new and existing road projects, plus $123 million to pay for a third new 144-car ferry.

Included in that amount is $1 billion for connecting state Route 167 near Tacoma and state Route 509 near Seatac to Interstate 5, $450 million to complete the Columbia River Crossing, and several hundred million dollars to extend the Interstate 405 HOT lanes from Bellevue to Renton.

Not included in the list of projects to be funded through the package is the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel replacement in Seattle.

Republicans responded to Clibborn’s proposal with skepticism.

“We know that we have a need within the transportation system,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, who is co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “It’s whether this is the right time to address that need. I think the public will tell us that.”

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, the ranking minority member of the House Transportation Committee, was more blunt in his criticism of the proposal, which would increase the current gas tax of 37.5 cents per gallon by 2 cents annually over five years.

“We need to spend the next two years drilling down into the cost drivers and figure out how to make our tax dollars go further,” Orcutt said. “And we should make sure our tax dollars go further before we reach further into the taxpayers’ pockets.”

Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement that he would work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to craft a transportation funding proposal that can make it to his desk.

“We can’t afford to not take action, and this is a job I expect the Legislature to accomplish,” the Democratic governor said.

In order to be passed into law, any new taxes would have to receive a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Legislature or simple majorities in both houses followed by a vote of the people.

If all the projects are fully funded – and many of the projects will require more money, likely from the federal government – House Democrats estimate the proposal would create 56,000 jobs.

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