House ups gas tax ante


Olympia, WA - 4/8/03 - House Democrats on Monday offered to support another cent increase in the state gasoline tax.
It's an effort, they said, to meet the Senate part way and stoke the process in the ongoing negotiations for a 10-year transportation package.

Up until now, House Democrats had favored a 3-cent increase in the state's 23-cent-a-gallon tax, while the Republican-led Senate wanted 5 cents. But House Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Murray said Monday that House Democrats could support 4 cents, as well as more money for highway construction, as Senate Republicans favor.

"We're just trying to get something to move," said Murray, D-Seattle.

In its plan, introduced about two weeks ago, the Senate proposes raising $4.1 billion during the next decade, with $3.7 billion going directly to road projects. House Democrats, who had initially proposed $2.6 billion, have upped their offer to $3 billion, with $500 million more for highway projects than they first called for.

Democratic and GOP lawmakers have struggled in recent weeks to find common ground on transportation, with all agreeing the state needs to make some kind of progress toward fixing its crumbling transportation infrastructure, even after voters overwhelmingly defeated Referendum 51 last fall, which would have raised the gas tax by 9 cents.

Last week, Gov. Gary Locke summoned lawmakers for a late-night negotiating session in his office. While some progress was reported, both sides say they're still split over how much money to dedicate to highway building versus non-highway spending like transit and rail projects.

Sen. Jim Horn, the Mercer Island Republican who chairs the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee, said he appreciates Murray's latest offer, but said there are still significant differences between the two proposals.

In particular, Horn said he doesn't like House Democrats new suggestion that the gas tax be phased in, 1 cent per year. "I'm just afraid that would slow us down too much," Horn said.

By boosting the amount of gas tax they're willing to raise, House Democrats ensure more money for roads, as state law requires that gas tax receipts go to highway projects. Democrats also decreased by a little more than a tenth of a percent the increase they call for in the new and used vehicle tax, from 0.6 percent to 0.46 percent. The Senate would raise that tax by 0.3 percent.

In order to pump more money back into mobility projects, House Democrats have now proposed a $20 vehicle license retention fee.

The Democrats' new offer puts them close to the plan offered by Gov. Gary Locke, who also has proposed a 4-cent-a-gallon increase that would raise $2.6 billion over the next decade.

Murray characterized his new offer as a sincere effort to find bipartisan ground on the transportation issue. "What we're offering today is another example of our willingness to compromise for the good of the state," he said.


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