Leaders agree on gas tax; transportation differences remain

Staff writerJune 12, 2013 

The Republican transportation leader in the state Senate has prepared his own version of a gas-tax and fee-raising plan that could be taken up in the second special session that begins Wednesday.

The proposal is a sign that a transportation tax plan is not dead, as it seemed to some lawmakers less than a week ago. But the differences between Yakima Republican Curtis King’s version and the package Democrats are promoting show the potential difficulty of final negotiations.

King, co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and Democratic transportation leaders have agreed the package should raise the gas tax by 101/2 cents and increase vehicle weight fees.

Both versions fund extensions of state Routes 167 and 509 that would be dependent on tolling those highways and toll lanes on Interstate 5. But King’s allocation of $1.53 billion for those projects is about $260 million higher than Democrats’, reducing the money needed from tolls.

The reason King has more money to spend on Routes 167 and 509 – and on maintenance and preservation of roads and bridges, which would get an extra $300 million – is because he does not propose funding a Columbia River Crossing replacement on Interstate 5 in Vancouver or many of the smaller projects in the Democrats’ package.

His package spends twice as much, $350 million, as Democrats proposed for improvements to I-5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord. King’s proposal would fully fund a project to redo intersections at Berkeley Avenue and Thorne Lane and add an extra lane of highway in both directions between those two points.

King said he tried “to complete projects rather than piecemealing them.”

King’s version also gives local governments in Pierce County and elsewhere some local authority, but offers less help for mass transit riders. His plan:

 • Allow Pierce and Snohomish counties to levy the same kind of $20 car-tab fee that King County raises, and extend the expiring fee authority in King – but all three counties would have to spend the money on roads and bridges, not on mass transit, the current use in King.

 • Expand the level of sales tax that transit agencies can raise with voter consent. That might help Metro Transit in King County but doesn’t help Pierce Transit, which has been unable to persuade voters to go up to the existing level of authority. Democrats want to let Pierce Transit draw a subdistrict with a more sympathetic set of voters. King said a subdistrict that includes the Tacoma Mall would unfairly charge shoppers from outside the district who don’t benefit.

 • Would not share state fees with local transit agencies. However, King said cities and counties would get a share of state funds with no strings attached, so they could be used for any transportation purpose including handing some over to transit agencies. That’s if cities and counties would agree to give up their money.

 • Would not allow Tacoma, Olympia and other cities that have formed transportation districts to increase their car tab fees from $20 to $40 without voter approval, as Democrats wanted. Instead, their sales tax authority would be raised from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent – but voters would have to approve the use of the additional capacity.

“He just ripped the heart out of things that were really important to King County and probably Pierce and Snohomish,” said House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, the author of the Democratic plan. The Mercer Island Democrat praised some of the other aspects of the plan, though, such as the flexible city-and-county authority.

King said he sought to put limited money where it would do the most good for the economy, and said the regular transportation budget already included money for transit.

Republicans also want a series of reforms to how transportation money is spent to go along with the new taxes. But even with those, King isn’t saying how many votes his caucus will provide for the package. He still sees the proposal as a tall order.

“I think, in all honesty, it would be very difficult to work through this whole process and get everybody on board that needs to be there,” King said.

Complicating the process, King himself has vowed to vote no on any package – even his own. He cites the views in his district.

“I don’t think this is the year we need to do it,” he said. “But I’m the co-chair of transportation and I think my duties are beyond just what I feel I need to do for my district.”

Because of that nuance: “The negotiations are going to be very strange,” Clibborn said.

Clibborn wants to start moving proposals along soon, saying lawmakers can’t wait for the regular budget to be done.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics jordan.schrader@ thenewstribune.com @Jordan_Schrader Brad Shannon contributed to this report.

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