Lawmakers fired up over gas tax proposal

"OLYMPIA - Gov. Gary Locke's 10-year, $17.2 billion transportation fix garnered a mixed reaction from Kitsap lawmakers.Some, like 35th District Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon, found the governor's proposed gas tax increase hard to stomach. A gas tax increase would hit the people of my district particularly hard since most residents commute long distances, said Sheldon, whose district includes Mason, western Kitsap and parts of Thurston and Grays Harbor counties. Meanwhile, we're seeing gas prices increase rapidly and energy prices overall are going up.The governor's transportation funding proposal, released earlier this month, includes a seven-cent gas tax increase between now and 2004; a 50 percent gross weight surcharge on commercial trucks; and a 2 percent sales tax increase on a new and used vehicles.Locke's tax proposals could be palatable to voters this fall, said Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-23rd District, because lawmakers have worked to ensure efficiencies, streamline the permitting process and establish accountability within the state Department of Transportation (DOT). We need voter confidence to get these projects under way, Rockefeller said. The governor signed a measure that conforms with Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation recommendations to lower the cost of maintaining Washington State Ferries vessels. The Blue Ribbon Commission, composed of business, government and labor officials, completed a study of state transportation infrastructure late last year.The governor's transportation package is a logical outgrowth to the commission's recommendations, said Rockefeller, a member of the House Transportation Committee. Already, a number of bills that detail these recommendations have moved forward and several others have reached the governor's desk.Rockefeller added that many state lawmakers were leaning toward using a gas tax increase to fund transportation improvements even before the governor's recommendation.Rep. Beverly Woods, R-23rd District, said she wants to see even more accountability within DOT before supporting the governor's transportation revenue package. People aren't likely to raise the gas tax for the first time in a decade unless they get proof that the system is more accountable and efficient, said Woods, who is also a member of the House Transportation Committee. Let's deal with the question of efficiency now, and adopt reforms before anything goes before the voters.The governor's plan focuses on clearing up congestion in the central Puget Sound, Vancouver and Spokane.The state would chip in $9.4 billion for transportation improvements over the next decade, with urban areas and new regional transportation districts responsible for the remainder. Both the Legislature and voters would have to approve creation of regional transportation districts before Locke's plan could be implemented.I like the idea of the Puget Sound area paying for more of their own projects, said Sheldon, defining Puget Sound primarily as King County. "

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