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Sales-tax forgiveness could save Tacoma Narrows toll payers 40-50 cents

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Jan. 20, 2012 at 10:06 am |
January 20, 2012 10:28 am

Tolls on the Narrows bridge are almost certainly about to go up, driven by growing debt-service payments on the 2007 span. The only question is how much.

A measure in the Legislature might knock as much as 50 cents off of the necessary increase, according to the state’s toll director. Lawmakers are looking at forgiving sales taxes, and Craig Stone said Thursday:

that there could be about a 40 to 50 cent toll reduction for 2013 resulting from forgiving deferred sales taxes, but we’d want to have the traffic and revenue consultants run the numbers to get a more precise estimate or to project the impact past 2013.

Here’s the problem: the aid relies on widening the shortfall in the state’s operating budget, which lawmakers are desperately trying to shrink. That makes it a tall order.

The state allowed the bridge to delay sales tax payments on construction but they’re due starting in 2013, in equal payments of $5.75 million a year over 10 years.

Two Gig Harbor Democrats, Rep. Larry Seaquist and Sen. Derek Kilmer, are the lead sponsors of a pair of bipartisan bills forgiving the sales tax.

Another bill would eliminate the requirement to pay sales tax for transportation projects across the state. Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen said this week the change would save $80 million from bonded transportation projects alone — but would also eliminate $80 million from the state’s strapped general fund.

The bridge currently charges $4 cash for a trip across the bridge. It’s a little less for customers with prepaid Good to Go accounts, $2.75, and a little more for people who drive across without paying, $5.50. As the TNT’s Christian Hill reported recently, Stone says an increase of more than $1 is needed:

Craig Stone said his staff is preparing scenarios for review by the bridge’s citizen advisory committee starting next week that would raise tolls at booths between $1.50 and $2. Good to Go! tolls could go up $1.50 to $1.75.

Kilmer said he’s also looking at reducing the required reserves for the bridge, which now stand at 12.5 percent. A reduction could also hold down tolls, although it would reduce the state’s cushion in emergencies.

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