More than 90 people signed up to testify before a state House committee Thursday on a plan approved by the Senate to raise the state’s gas tax to fund transportation.
Under the 16-year, $15 billion plan, a nearly 12-cent gas tax hike would help fund megaprojects – including the North-South freeway in Spokane and State Route 520 Bridge – throughout the state. The package also puts money toward 58 regional projects, including transit, bike paths and pedestrian walkways.
If lawmakers approve the package, it would be the first major transportation funding measure passed in a decade. “We have bridges collapsing, roads are crowded,” Lake Stevens Sen. Steve Hobbs said. “This is the time to pass a transportation package because we need it.”
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who used to chair the House transportation committee, pointed to a recent traffic jam in his request for more funding for Highway 99. A semi-truck carrying salmon overturned Tuesday evening, blocking traffic on the highway for nearly nine hours. “If one accident happens, like with the salmon truck, the entire region clogs up,” he said.
The gas tax hike would happen in three phases. First, a 5-cent increase in July, then 4.2 cents in 2016 and 2.5 cents in 2017. Washington has the seventh highest gas tax in the nation. People in the state already pay 55.9 cents per gallon in taxes – 37.5 cents to the state, plus 18.4 cents federal tax.
Washington Treasurer James McIntire told committee members the gas tax was overused and the plan borrows too much. He called for more tolling, especially on I-90, to fund transportation projects.
The transportation package comes with several conditions, including one that would take money away from transit and bike paths and instead put it toward roads if the state adopts a low carbon fuel standard.
Some House Democrats call the provision a “poison pill” and say it could keep the package from passing through the chamber. Gov. Jay Inslee has called for a study of low carbon fuel standards as part of a carbon reduction proposal.
Charles Knutson from the governor’s office asked members to drop those conditions attached to the transportation proposal. “The governor would like to see a clean bill come of this committee,” he said. “The cleaner the bill, the easier it will be to reach a final agreement.”
House Bill 5987 passed 27 to 22 in the Senate. The package has not been scheduled for a vote in the House Transportation committee.