State House panel OKs road project funding plan

OLYMPIA — A transportation revenue package funding several large highway projects and paid for in part by a 10-cent increase in the state’s gas tax advanced from a House committee Monday.

Among the projects the $8.5 billion package would fund are those linking a pair of state routes to Interstate 5, the North Spokane Corridor and a replacement for the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.

“This is a good effort coming out of committee,” said House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. “Everyone got their fingerprints on it.”

The revenue package, intended to be rolled out over 12 years, was passed on a party-line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. Proponents say the package is necessary to ensure that Washington state’s infrastructure remains up to the task of getting people and goods to their destinations safely and without undue delay.

Opponents acknowledge that the state has real transportation needs, but they’re uncomfortable with tax hikes — particularly ones not first approved by voters — to help fund them.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said the package would place too much burden on people already struggling to afford gas for their cars.

“We are concerned about the costs to the citizens coming out of this,” Orcutt said.

An amendment passed by the committee would shorten the implementation period of the gas tax hike from four to three years. The change would bring the state an estimated $68 million.

Another successful amendment would raise the gas tax by up to an additional 3 cents if tolling on Interstate 90 is not implemented to help complete the State Route 520 bridge replacement over Lake Washington.

Of the $8.5 billion, roughly $600 million comes from fees that are already on the books. Another $3.7 billion would be raised by issuing bonds.

The package heads next to the House Rules Committee. If it makes it out of the Democratic-controlled House, it faces an uphill battle in the more tax-averse Senate, which is controlled by a Republican-dominated majority.

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