OLYMPIA, Wash. — House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled their $9.8 billion transportation revenue proposal, but it won’t go very far unless they at least agree to put its biggest element to a popular vote, the Senate Transportation Committee co-chairman said.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said a proposed 10-cent gas tax increase doesn’t have the required support of two-thirds of both houses to be approved by the Legislature. Even if it did, King said he would oppose approving a tax increase without a vote of the people.
Whether he thinks the state needs to raise taxes in order to raise an additional $9.8 billion over the next decade for new transportation projects, he’s not saying.
“I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no,” King said in a telephone interview from Olympia. “Take that for what it’s worth.”
The increase would push the state’s gas tax to 48.5 cents, the highest in the nation. The ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee was quick to pan the proposal in a news release Wednesday.
“House Republicans understand there are maintenance demands and new projects needed in the future,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama. “But any debate on transportation must begin with reforms, not tax increases on struggling workers and families, and not new project lists to entice votes in the Legislature.”
In addition to the gas tax hike, the proposal put forth by the House Transportation chairwoman, Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, would create a new annual car tab fee pegged at 0.7 percent of the vehicle’s value, a $25 fee on bicycles priced over $500 and more than $3 billion in new bonds.
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 in addition to existing fees and $12 for title transfers.
King said he doesn’t know if the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate would put forth a counter offer, but at the earliest it wouldn’t be until the proposals in the package make their way out of the House of Representatives.
A hearing on the proposals is expected early next week in the House Transportation Committee, according to a news release from Clibborn and other House Democrats.
“From the child going to school each day to the farmer whose crops travel through our ports to markets abroad, this package is about the infrastructure and jobs that will bring Washingtonians together,” Clibborn said in the news release.
In a separate news release from the Washington State Labor Council, Clibborn said Democrats hope to gain enough bipartisan support to approve new revenue without sending a package to voters.
King said the state is faced with a number of needed “mega projects” — including an expansion of Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass that will cost $158.4 million — that the projected budget currently doesn’t have the funds to accomplish.
Snoqualmie Pass, the most theavily used in the state, is the main corridor for the transportation of agricultural products from the Yakima Valley.
The project would widen an additional 2-mile section near the pass and reconstruct the Stampede Pass and Cabin Creek interchanges to eliminate low clearances.
“I know people have been struggling all across the state,” King said. “Can we convince them that these needs are vital to our economy?”
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.
King said the state is also struggling to pay off transportation bonds that were taken out based upon projected increases in gas tax revenue that ultimately never happened.
“That eats into preservation efforts and smaller projects and helped create some of the problems we have with our transportation system,” he said.
King said the Senate majority will put forth its 2013-15 biennium transportation budget sometime in March after the latest state revenue forecast is issued. He said he expects that to be about the same amount as in recent years, between $9 billion and $9.5 billion, even if no new revenue sources are approved.
• Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.