East King County lawmakers say Democrat gas tax package doesn't address public concerns

News Release: Olympia, WA - 3/1/02 - Seven East King County legislators said the Democrat
transportation tax package passed by the House today fails to provide desperately needed congestion relief for King County commuters and businesses. House Bill 2969 would raise gas taxes by 8 cents over two years bringing the total gas tax to 31 cents per gallon.  It would also raise the gross weight fee on trucks by 20 percent and would impose a new 1 percent sales tax surcharge on all new and used vehicles.  House Democrats estimate their plan would raise about $6 billion over the next 10 years, but their proposed spending program puts only $3.7 billion of that into improving roads.

Reps. Fred Jarrett, Cheryl Pflug, Glenn Anderson, Jack Cairnes, Luke Esser, and Toby Nixon joined to vote no. However, the measure passed by a vote of 55-44.

"Considering the dramatic impact of this proposed $6 billion investment in transportation and its impact on the future of the state's economy, it is unbelievable that the majority party would suggest that we
cannot afford accountability. This is an enormous red flag that undermines the credibility of this package," said Anderson, R-Fall City. "The voters in the 5th District are willing to pay their fair share to relieve traffic congestion and to improve commuter mobility, but not if it means recklessly throwing more money at the situation."

"We need to show the taxpayers we are willing to make wise decisions on how to spend their money. This package is not going to earn the public's support," said Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, who offered an amendment
to strengthen legislative accountability for the transportation solutions. "We've made real progress in making the Department of Transportation more accountable and efficient. We should be accountable too. It's my hope that when the Senate gets this package, it will take the next step."

"The residents of King County support transit. In fact, we currently pay tax for a transit system," said Cairnes, R-Covington. "I just couldn't in good conscience vote for a transportation package that included more. Transit receives its fair share. Let's put these gas tax revenues where they should be - pavement and roads."

"The people of the state repealed the motor vehicle excise tax at least in part because the value of a vehicle has nothing to do with its impact on road capacity or road maintenance costs," said Nixon, R-Kirkland. "The gas tax is the closest thing we have to a user fee for roads. Placing the burden of solving traffic congestion on those who buy vehicles, through an additional sales tax, rather than on all users of roads is inequitable. I believe the sales tax component will lead to a voter defeat of this package."

"In this particular bill, I would have preferred that the gas tax was higher and that there would be no sales tax on car sales. That's just a deal-breaker for me," said Ballasiotes, R-Mercer Island. "I've talked to individual car dealers and they are not happy with that."

The section in the bill that would allow the state to use anticipated automobile sales tax revenue to purchase bonds for transit projects also came under heavy fire. The Eastside lawmakers said the plan to
issue more general obligation bonds funded by anticipated sales tax would only lead to trouble down the road. They noted that if the sales tax fund can't pay off the bonds, the money comes out of the General Fund Budget, taking dollars away from education, human services and criminal justice. "The legislation under consideration today makes a false promise," said Pflug, R-Maple Valley. "It would not deliver enough money for the projects in our area. It exempts the bonding in this bill from the statutory debt limit, which will likely give the state of Washington the bond rating of Enron. Ten years down the road we will be left with debt to service and no revenue to finish the projects. We absolutely need a package that will allow us to relieve congestion on our roadways. Although I remain hopeful that we can still get a transportation bill that would make a difference in our community, this measure is very disappointing."

House Bill 2969 does not include language to address regional transportation funding needs, which has been a priority for Eastside legislators since the 2001 session. "The regional transportation plan is more important to the Eastside right now than the statewide plan," said Esser, R-Bellevue. "Unfortunately, the regional plan is still deadlocked in negotiations.  We need to get that moving and approved.  Without it, the statewide plan will not make the improvements being promised." The measure now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

CONTACT: Rep. Cheryl Pflug /(360) 786-7852; Rep. Glenn Anderson/(360) 786-7876; Rep. Fred Jarrett/(360) 786-7894; Rep. Jack Cairnes /(360) 786-7858; Rep. Luke Esser/(360) 786-7936; Rep. Toby Nixon/(360) 786-7878


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