Kitsap lawmakers split over governor's proposal

"With less than two weeks remaining in the special legislative session, reaction among Kitsap lawmakers to Gov. Gary Locke's 10-year, $17.2 billion transportation fix is still mixed at best.The rift among local lawmakers crosses party lines, however loosely drawn they are in an evenly divided House and, in the state Senate, which holds just one more Democrat than Republican.Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, who briefly considered switching to the Republican party or registering as an Independent before the start of the session, said he's reluctant to totally support the governor's long-term revenue package, since it hinges on a significant gas tax increase. A gas tax increase would hit the people of my district particularly hard since most residents commute long distances, said Sheldon, who represents the 35th District. Meanwhile, we're seeing gas prices increase rapidly and energy prices overall are going up.The tax portion of the package could be palatable to voters this fall, said Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, considering lawmakers have already worked to follow through this session with the recommendations provided by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation. That is, lawmakers have crafted measures that would ensure efficiencies, streamline the permitting process and establish accountability within the state Department of Transportation (DOT). Lawmakers expect the measures to instill more confidence in voters about the DOT system, as well as promote efficiencies.We need voter confidence to get these projects underway, Rockefeller said. The governor has already signed at least one Blue Ribbon-esque measure, which could lower the cost of maintaining Washington State Ferries vessels, and some two dozen others have reached his desk.The governor's transportation package is a logical outgrowth to the commission's recommendations, continued Rockefeller, who sits on 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.Besides, Rockefeller asserts there is a growing consensus among lawmakers in the House and Senate anyway for a gas-tax increase proposal to fund transportation improvements over the next decade.Even so, Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Pouslbo, who is also a member of the House Transportation Committee, said she's not as keen as other lawmakers about the timing of the governor's transportation revenue package. Woods wants to see even more accountability within the state DOT first.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, she said. Let's deal with the question of efficiency now, and adopt reforms before anything goes before the voters.The governor's transportation plan principally calls for clearing up congestion in the Central Puget Sound congestion, as well as the traffic jams that tend to crop up in Vancouver and Spokane these days. While the state could chip in $9.4 billion for these types of transportation improvements over the next decade, urban areas or specific regions could raise the remainder, since officials say the state can't fund all of them. The creation of these regions, called regional transportation governances, hinges on both the Legislature authorizing the ability for regions to team up, and on voters approving the formation of specific regional authorities.I like the idea of the Puget Sound area paying for more of their own projects, said Sheldon, who defines the Puget Sound region as primarily King County.More specifically to Kitsap, the governor's 10-year revenue package would also maintain existing passenger-only-ferry services and provide for the purchase of four auto ferry vessels to replace those that were built before the start of the Great Depression. In return, the governor would ask voters to swallow several bitter tax pills, such as a seven-cent gas tax increase spread through 2004, a 50 percent gross weight surcharge on commercial trucks, and a 2 percent sales tax increase on a new and used vehicles.Lawmakers, including those representing Kitsap, are still discussing the governor's revenue proposal while working on pushing through DOT efficiencies.The Legislature is still working to complete a transportation budget for 2001-03. Both the House and the Senate have proposed their respective $3.3 and $3.4 billion budgets, but lawmakers are still ironing out the differences between them. "

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