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Panel: Gas Tax Should Go Up

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A coalition of business, labor, environmental and civic leaders yesterday urged the Legislature to raise the state gas tax 10 cents a gallon over the next two years to help pay for replacements for the imperiled Alaskan Way Viaduct and Highway 520 floating bridge as well as other transportation projects.

The viaduct and 520 should be priorities because they are “so large and so critical, they’re in the way of anything else getting done,” said retired Boeing vice president Doug Beighle, who chaired the group.

The coalition, called the Transportation Working Group, said the state should increase transportation spending $8 billion over the next 10 years. The proposed gas-tax increase would raise most of that. The coalition said the remainder could come from other sources, including license- and weight-fee increases, and tolls or other user fees.

Of the $8 billion, about $2 billion would go for the viaduct replacement and $500 million for 520 — not enough to complete either project, Beighle acknowledged, but enough to get started.

Fixing the central Puget Sound area’s transportation problems also will require separate, regional financing, the group said. But before that can happen, it added, the region needs to better integrate the way it plans, funds and governs its transportation network.

Leaders said they hoped to develop a proposal for the Legislature over the next few months. That could involve consolidating some existing transportation agencies, including Sound Transit and the three-county Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID).

The RTID has been working on and off since 2002 to put a package of transportation taxes and projects before voters. Some working-group leaders said its prospects don’t look good.

“There are enough problems with it that it probably wouldn’t work,” said state Transportation Commission member Richard Ford.

The Transportation Working Group’s members include officials from Boeing, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, Puget Sound Energy and area chambers of commerce; former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton; and representatives from such organizations as the Washington State Labor Council, the Municipal League of King County, AAA Washington, 1000 Friends of Washington and Washington Conservation Voters.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank, convened the group in September, shortly after plans to place an RTID package on the Nov. 2 ballot collapsed. The group’s work was supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A 10-cent increase would bring the state gas tax to 38 cents per gallon. The Legislature raised it to 28 cents from 23 cents last year.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the additional money is badly needed. But he said campaign attacks this fall on lawmakers who voted for the last increase will make it more difficult to raise the gas tax again.

Murray also said central Puget Sound-area transportation planning and governance must be overhauled for a regional tax package to have any chance of approval.

“The decision-makers are in walled-off silos,” he said.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or