Gas tax rising 7 cents to fund transportation projects

OLYMPIA — The state’s gas tax will climb this week and by next summer will be the second-highest rate in the nation.

It will rise 7 cents a gallon Saturday and another 4.9 cents July 1, 2016. The two-step increase will help pay for billions of dollars in improvements in the state’s transportation system.

Supporters say boosting the state’s gas tax will be worth it because those dollars will pay for much needed new roads, bridges and bike paths and expanded bus service throughout Washington.

It is the largest source of money for the state’s plan to make $16 billion of improvements in its transportation system in the next 16 years.

“I think people will notice (the increase). I think people driving in congestion are not going to like it but will appreciate where it is going,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee and a leading architect of the final package.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, one of a handful of lawmakers involved in the intricate negotiations, said there will be many benefits in his district.

“For us, for example, we’re getting a new intersection that everybody in Lake Stevens knows we have to do and that is at Frontier Village,” he said. And there’s money to construct a new bridge over the Snohomish River and deal with issues surrounding 35th Avenue in Mill Creek, he said.

Lawmakers who opposed the gas tax hike differed in their reasons. Some simply vote against any tax hike and others felt this double-digit increase would hit the pocketbooks of the working poor harder than other economic classes.

And some, like freshman Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, said he wanted the measure put in front of voters to make the final decision.

“I don’t have any issue with the projects. A lot of the projects are great,” said Harmsworth who, like Hobbs, represents the 44th Legislative District in central Snohomish County. “This is a large increase and I wanted to get their approval before we do it.”

Today, the state’s gas tax is $37.5 cents a gallon. On Aug. 1, it will go up 7 cents to 44.5 cents. That will put Washington ahead of California (42.35 cents) and behind only Pennsylvania (51.6 cents), New York (45.9) and Hawaii (45.1), based on figures compiled for July by the American Petroleum Institute.

Next summer, Washington’s rate will climb to 49.4 cents per gallon. Barring action by any other states, this would leave Washington with the second highest gas tax in the nation behind Pennsylvania.

The 11.9-cent increase is the chief source of new revenue for the state’s multi-year transportation package. But money also is generated from increasing vehicle registration fees by $15 to $35 a year, depending on the weight of the vehicle. There also is a new $5 fee on each studded tire sold in the state.

Under the plan, an estimated $8.8 billion will be spent on state and local road projects, $1.4 billion on maintaining existing highways and nearly $1 billion for multimodal projects including buses, bike paths and pedestrian walkways.

The package also clears the way for Community Transit and Sound Transit to ask voters to approve new or higher taxes in order to expand their respective services.

Community Transit leaders already agreed to ask voters in November to raise the sales tax to fund services. Sound Transit is looking to ask voters in November 2016 for authority to raise $15 billion for a system expansion into Everett and Tacoma.

The state package contains roughly $670 million allotted for road, transit and ferry projects in Snohomish County.

While the gas tax will go up 7 cents Saturday, it’s hard to predict what drivers will encounter if they fill up their tanks this weekend.

In Washington, the gas tax isn’t paid at the pump. Rather, since 1999, the state has collected fuel taxes at the point of distribution. This means fuel wholesalers pay it at the time they make their purchases from distributors. This is commonly known as “tax at the rack.”

“By the time the gas reaches the gas station, the tax has been paid,” explained Tony Sermonti of the state Department of Licensing.

And given the constant fluctuation in gas prices, a bump up of a penny or two won’t be surprising.

“I think people will see it but I don’t know if they’ll notice it because they are always going up and down,” Clibborn said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

How they voted

The new law containing the 11.9-cent increase in the gas tax passed the House on a 54-44 vote and the Senate by a 37-7 margin. Here’s how area lawmakers voted:

Yes

Democrats: Reps. Luis Moscoso, of Mountlake Terrace, Derek Stanford, of Bothell, Strom Peterson, of Edmonds, Lillian Ortiz-Self, of Mukilteo, Ruth Kagi, of Seattle, Cindy Ryu, of Shoreline, Mike Sells, of Everett, June Robinson, of Everett

Sens. Rosemary McAuliffe, of Bothell, Marko Liias, of Lynnwood, Maralyn Chase, of Shoreline, John McCoy, of Tulalip, Steve Hobbs, of Lake Stevens

Republicans: Sen. Barbara Bailey, of Oak Harbor

No

Democrats: Rep. Hans Dunshee, of Snohomish

Republicans: Reps. Dave Hayes, of Stanwood, Norma Smith, of Clinton, Elizabeth Scott, of Monroe, Dan Kristiansen, of Snohomish, Mark Harmsworth, of Mill Creek

Sen. Kirk Pearson, of Monroe

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