April 26 Daily News editorial
Anyone who remembers last fall’s gubernatorial campaign in Washington could be forgiven for expressing surprise that so much of this year’s legislative agenda in Olympia has focused on tax increases.
Not so many months ago, of course, we had both Democrat Jay Inslee (the eventual winner) and Republican Rob McKenna going from one part of the state to another saying the time wasn’t right for new taxes and that Washingtonians would not support them. Their logic was that the state had yet to recover from the 2008 recession and that another round of tax hikes would endanger any partial recoveries that had been made.
Which didn’t stop the House Transportation Committee from approving a 12-year, $8.4 billion transportation revenue package earlier this week that includes a 10-cent per gallon rise in the state’s gasoline tax to be phased in over the next four years.
This sure sounds like a tax increase to us.
It probably sounded that way to the members of the Seattle Times’ Editorial Board as well, but the Times ultimately gave the plan some tentative backing, calling it an option “that deserves serious consideration.”
The House bill also includes higher weight fees for truckers, higher registration costs for all motor vehicle owners and authority for cities and counties to approve additional increases in costs and fees.
It was the opinion of the Times that this plan might be sold to state voters if they knew exactly how and where all the millions might be spent. We’re not sure about that, particularly because the House bill includes a $450 million allocation for a proposed rebuilding of the Columbia River Crossing, the two bridges that span the Columbia on Interstate Route 5 between Vancouver and Portland.
A budget approved by the state Senate on a voice vote last week drops appropriations for the CRC to $82 million, barely enough to cover the inevitable next wave of design changes.
The House bill also seems to assume that most of Washington’s bridges and roadways are in perfect or near-perfect condition as it contains less than $1 billion for maintenance, operations and preservation — quite a bit less than the $3.1 billion recommended by the Washington Roundtable, one of the state’s largest business lobbies.
Expensive new construction — like the CRC, the linking of State Routes 167 and 509 to I-5 and a traffic corridor project for the north side of Spokane — dominates the House version.
The House and Senate bills will be reconciled over the next days and weeks as the Legislature enters the home stretch prior to adjournment. With effective control of the Senate, Republicans (who definitely tend to fall into the “not so fast” category with respect to the CRC) are better positioned than usual to do some real bargaining with the House’s Democratic majority.
Washingtonians are also paying some of the highest gasoline taxes in the United States as we speak. According to 2012 gas tax data compiled by the American Petroleum Institute, only residents of New York, California, Hawaii, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana pay more.
Perhaps the Times’ editorialists are correct in postulating that state voters will feel better about paying higher gas taxes if they have more information. For our part, we found 2012’s “no new taxes” theme fell more easily on the ears.