Gregoire signs Wash. transportation budget

OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire on Friday signed into law a supplemental transportation budget with $57 million in new spending paid for by increased fees related to driving.

The new money in the two-year, $9.8 billion budget approved last year is a far cry from the $3.6 billion increase in transportation funding over the next decade that Gregoire called for in January.

“I congratulate the Legislature for doing what they could do this year,” the governor said. “But let me be clear. Tomorrow we’re going to have to step up to this challenge as a state.”

The supplemental budget includes $9.5 million for the State Patrol over the next year, including money for an extra class of 21 cadets and for fighting auto theft.

It provides $9 million in aid to regional and local transit agencies over the next year, $8 million in preliminary spending on highway projects and $7 million for fuel for the ferry system.

The bill also includes several hundred million dollars in previously dedicated money that is being freed up for the state Route 520 floating bridge project.

Along with the budget, the governor signed into law a series of fee increases. Among them, driver’s license fees will increase by 80 percent, the fee for a vehicle title will spike from $5 to $15, and a new $10 fee will be applied to first-time license plates.

Also included is a new $100 annual fee for owning an electric car. That fee is intended to offset the corresponding loss of gas tax revenue from electric car owners.

In December, a task force convened by the governor cited bridges in need of replacement, roads overdue for repair and an overstretched, aging ferry system in calling for the state to raise $21 billion over 10 years to shore up its transportation infrastructure.

As the Legislature convened in January, the governor called on lawmakers to pass her transportation funding plan for the next decade. To help pay for it, she proposed a $1.50 fee on each barrel of oil refined in the state, which would have hit oil companies harder than drivers.

The fee had significant support in the House but not in the more fundraising-averse Senate, where Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, declared it a nonstarter.

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