12/22/2014

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State Legislature passes no-new-taxes transportation budget

State Legislature passes no-new-taxes transportation budget
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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington state Legislature on Sunday passed a no-new-taxes transportation budget that invests in maintaining state roadways and continues spending on existing big-ticket projects but does not fund new ones.

The $8.8 billion budget plan includes continued funding for the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel project, a replacement bridge for State Route 520 over Lake Washington and high-occupancy lanes on Interstate 5 in Tacoma.

It assumes that the viaduct tunnel with bring in $200 million in tolls — a figure that critics worry does not fully account for drivers who will avoid the toll by using city streets.

The budget also includes $82 million in planning money for a replacement bridge carrying Interstate 5 over the Columbia River. Only $1.3 million of that money would come from Washington state gas tax dollars. Roughly $50 million is projected to come from Oregon to be administered by Washington state, with the remainder coming from the federal government.

House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said the budget will help maintain the state's roadways, the ferry system and keep current projects afloat, but more money will be needed to pay for projects to carry the economy forward.

"It's a budget we can all go home and be proud we accomplished," Clibborn said.

Lawmakers are leaving aside for now the more contentious question of a transportation revenue package that would augment the budget. That debate is set to resume in a special session, during which lawmakers' primary focus will be to work toward a deal on the operating budget.

House Democrats are pushing an $8.5 billion, 12-year package that would include a 10-cent hike in the gas tax. It would provide funding for a handful of big-ticket projects, including connecting State Routes 167 and 509 to Interstate 5, the North Spokane Corridor and $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing Project.

Senate Republicans have insisted that voters, and not the Legislature, should get the final say on a revenue package relying on a tax hikes. The Republican-dominated Senate has also come out in opposition to the Columbia River Crossing in its current form, saying that it is too low and should not include light rail transit.

"I just don't think people are in a position from a monetary standpoint to be able to support an increase in the gas tax," said Senate Transportation Committee co-Chair Curtis King, R-Yakima.

The transportation budget measure passed the House by a 72-25 vote, with Democrats united in favor and Republicans split. It advanced from the Senate by a 46-1 vote. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee.
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