While the Legislature will largely be shying away from taxes in the session starting next week, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown is open to asking voters for new revenue for transportation projects.
"That is a possibility for us, putting together something that has statewide economic development impact," Brown said. She brought up the issue at a panel discussion during this morning's Associated Press Legislative Preview.
She left open what taxes could go up, but in the past lawmakers have turned to gas taxes. Money raised by increases in the gas tax last decade, first by a nickel and then by 9 1/2 cents, has funded hundreds of projects but is now running out.
Among the "mega-projects" that would need new revenue to get off the ground is an extension of state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma, but there's no guarantee that would make a list of funded projects. Brown said she would want to make sure the North-South Corridor in her hometown of Spokane gets a piece of any funding, and that mass transit and other non-road projects get their share. She also mentioned stormwater cleanup projects.
The other three legislative leaders weren't crazy about the idea.
Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt said the state doesn't have the money and voters would be unlikely to let them take more. "I think it's going to be difficult to get anything past the voters," he said.
House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt was skeptical of a gas tax increase. "You just need to go to the pump and look at the price of gas," he said. "Are you going to ask people to pay more?"
House Speaker Frank Chopp said House Democrats are "open to considering that, but we're focused on the operating budget."
And that may be the big hurdle: lawmakers have enough troubles on their hands trying to fix the $4.6 billion budget shortfall. Brown said after the panel she agrees that's the top priority, but the state will need roads when the budget crisis has passed. "We've got to think ahead," she said.