Will transportation package hit a road block?

Local lawmakers offered lukewarm greetings to a $13.6 billion state and local transportation funding package introduced by Gov. Gary Locke last week.

The governor unveiled the plan — a revamped version of a transportation package the Legislature failed to pass during its extended 2001 session — on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Key among the provisions is a 9 cent per gallon gas tax, to be phased in at 3 cents a year for three years. Gas currently is taxed at 23 cents per gallon.

“My initial reaction is that this plan is more aggressive than the one worked out during the negotiations,” said Rep. Beverly Woods, R-23rd District. “The truck-weight fees and taxes on the sale of new and used cars, for example, are higher than negotiated.”

Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-23rd District, pointed out that the Senate approved the similar plan earlier this year. The plan died in the House, where Republicans demanded that voters make the final decision on the package.

“I just don’t foresee a change of heart among anyone in the Senate,” said Sheldon. “The House is the question now.”

Woods doubted there would be much of a change of heart in the House, either.

“If we didn’t have the votes earlier last year to pass a less aggressive transportation package, we won’t have them in January for this plan,” Woods said.

Woods said the House probably will stick to its insistence that the public get a chance to vote on the tax package. Most Democrats oppose such a move.

Democrats now hold the majority in both houses of the Legislature and theoretically could push the transportation package through, Woods said.

But the Poulsbo Republican said she doesn’t “think the Democrats will get those votes together without a promise of the package going to the people for a vote.”

Woods said a compromise plan is likely to emerge during the 2002 session, which begins Jan. 14. Sheldon agreed that a consensus must be reached.

“There has to be a bipartisan vote and a bipartisan package for transportation,” said Sheldon. “Both parties need to step up and address this serious problem.”

Initiative guru Tim Eyman promised to force a public vote on any new transportation taxes.

Locke’s proposal would raise $8.5 billion for state projects over the next 10 years, while authorizing voter-approved regional taxes to could pay for $5.1 billion more.

Along with the 9 cent a gallon gas tax increase, the plan includes a 1.5 percent sales tax on new and used cars, a 3-cent surcharge on diesel fuel and gross-weight surcharges for commercial trucks and motor homes.

The regional package allows a public vote on a $50-per-car registration fee, a .25 percent sales tax hike and a .25 percent surtax on car sales.

The state plan would allocate $6.1 billion to highways, with $646 million for ferry construction projects.

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