House Democrats offer transportation fix

House Democrats on Thursday unveiled a 10-year, $5.6 billion transportation revenue package geared toward relieving the state’s worst traffic choke points and shoring up the ferry system.

The proposal, which provides for a public vote on June 20, proposes spending $595 million on ferry terminal upgrades and the purchase of four new auto vessels to replace aging boats.

It also allocates $98 million for the operation of passenger-only ferries, including two runs from Kingston and Southworth in Kitsap County to Seattle.

“This is the first time that we get out more than what we put in,” Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor said. “Yet there is something good for everybody in this package, maybe not of the same magnitude, but the problems in our state are of different magnitudes.”

Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, said he was glad the Democratic Caucus acknowledged auto and passenger ferries as integral pieces to the overall transportation puzzle.

“This is only going to work if we all do it together,” Rockefeller said. “It has to be a balanced plan for the state.”

Negotiations between the House Democrats and Republicans are scheduled, since the GOP released its own transportation revenue package six days earlier, with some differences in use of tax dollars.

“This shows the Democrats and Republicans are not that far apart in their transportation approaches,” Gov. Gary Locke said Thursday in a prepared statement.

Locke also said he still prefers the Legislature voting on a transportation package in Olympia.

“Getting a transportation improvement package as soon as possible is critical in order to make Washington’s roads safer, reduce traffic congestion and put more Washingtonians to work sooner rather than later,” he said.

The House Democrat plan hinges on a three-tiered tax package phased in over a two-year period and includes:

• An eight-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax, with a four-cent increase this October and another four-cent increase in October 2003. The gas tax hasn’t been increased in a decade. This proposal would cost the average driver about $56 a year;

• an eight-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase on new and used vehicles, with four-tenths introduced this October and the remainder in October 2003; and,

• a 20 percent increase in truck weight fees, half to be implemented this October and the remaining half in October 2003.

The major transportation projects to receive funding under the Democrat plan include construction of four new lanes on Interstate 405 in East King County, completion of the High-Occupancy-Vehicle lanes on Interstate 5 from Everett south to Tacoma and expanding State Route 167.

Under the measure, a citizen-led Transportation Accountability Board would be appointed to monitor and ensure the efficient use of tax dollars for the approved improvement projects.

“They have their plan, and we have our plan,” Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Poulsbo said. “We have something to negotiate now. I think we’re so close on the House side that we can come up with a good compromise.”

Woods said the Republican plan released last Friday would allocate $5.46 billion on the state’s transportation problems.

The plan relies on a seven-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, to be phased in over two years and a 15 percent increase in gross weight fees.

Also under the Republican plan, one-half of 1 percent of the existing sales taxes on new and used vehicles would be earmarked beginning in 2004 for multi-modal transportation projects rather than the general fund and the existing 6.5 percent sales taxes on new highway construction would also be allocated for transportation funding.

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