The House Transportation Committee took a long-awaited vote today on a phased-in 10-cent gas-tax increase and other charges on drivers, but tacked on an extra three cents at the last minute that would only apply if the state Route 520 project doesn’t have enough funding.
The replacement of the floating bridge over Lake Washington has its funding lined up from past gas tax increases and other sources, including connections between the bridge and the Eastside suburbs. But there’s still some uncertainty about how the stretch of 520 between Interstate 5 and the Seattle side of the lake will be paid for. The gap in funding is as much as $1.4 billion. Democratic committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn says tolls are the answer, but last week she put $100 million into her gas-tax proposal in a sign of support for the project.
A much bigger sign of support came today with an amendment offered by Rep. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, that could push the project’s share of the tax revenue to $1 billion or so — which would be used to sell bonds, driving the revenue higher – if tolling or other funding doesn’t pan out. Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson or her successor would be responsible for certifying that SR 520 has enough money without the extra gas tax.
The state gas tax would rise as much as 13 cents to 50.5 cents a gallon, or as little as 10 cents if Peterson certifies it’s fully funded.
Clibborn said some Republicans told her the last-minute addition was the reason her tax package came out of committee on a party-line vote with no GOP support. Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-South Hill, a backer of the State Route 167 project that is part of a $1.27 billion outlay in Clibborn’s plan for the so-called “Puget Sound Gateway,” said the 13 cents was the reason he was voting no “for now.” He voted in favor of the measure that would spend the money raised by the new taxes.
Clibborn has said the ultimate amount of money for the gateway would depend partly on how local lawmakers ultimately vote — and although she vowed to work more on the 520 issue, several Pierce and south King county Republicans who support SR 167 made clear they have broader concerns. Rep. Jan Angel of Port Orchard said people are telling her they can’t afford to pay more in gas tax. Rep. Mark Hargrove of Covington said the Legislature hasn’t done enough to make sure the state is spending money wisely.
Other Republicans from the area who voted no include Rep. Steve O’Ban of Lakewood, who echoed the call for more reforms, and Rep. Linda Kochmar of Federal Way.