Gov. Chris Gregoire called on the Legislature to pass a $3.6 billion transportation package Tuesday, saying the proposal would create thousands of road-construction jobs across the state.
OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire called on the Legislature on Tuesday to pass a $3.6 billion transportation package, saying the proposal would create thousands of road-construction jobs across the state.
In her State of the State address, the Democratic governor said the 10-year plan would create about 5,500 jobs a year. To help pay for the package, she asked the Legislature to increase some fees, including adding a $100 fee to electric vehicles and passing a $1.50 fee on every barrel of oil produced in Washington.
“Our oil companies are getting all the profit and leaving us with the bill,” Gregoire told a joint session of the House and Senate. “We can do better.”
Republicans were skeptical, saying Gregoire’s suggested oil fee would translate into a tax increase on drivers.
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“That fee is going to come directly to the pump, directly to the gallon of gas that every citizen has to use,” said House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.
But he did not reject her overall proposal outright. “There are some fees we’re willing to look at,” DeBolt said, without providing specifics.
Gregoire also urged changes in education and a measure to legalize same-sex marriage. Her remarks came a day after legislators returned to the Capitol for the start of the 60-day session, in which they need to address a projected budget deficit of about $1 billion through June 2013.
She said passing a transportation package is necessary to improve the state’s crumbling infrastructure, and said the state faces a potential $1.6 billion shortfall over the next 10 years just to maintain highways.
“We can’t wait until roads, bridges and ferries are falling apart to fix them,” she said. “We can’t kick the can down the road and saddle our future generations with the repairs we failed to make.”
Gregoire’s proposal is modest compared to a recent report from a transportation task force she convened to examine the issue. The task force determined that state transportation needs in the next 10 years — including road, bridge and ferry projects — would cost up to $21 billion.
But in a short session when lawmakers will struggle to make deep cuts from the overall state budget, passing a massive transportation package as proposed by the task force could prove impossible — especially since lawmakers may send a temporary sales-tax increase to the ballot.
House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, called Gregoire’s proposal a “good start.”
Clibborn, who was part of the task force, said she is working on a transportation plan that probably will be larger than what the governor is seeking, but less than the $21 billion the task force recommended.
She said lawmakers may put something such as a gas tax on the ballot for voters to consider, but she said it’s possible the Legislature could come up with an alternative plan.
“There’s going to be a lot of work on transportation, and it isn’t clear to me where we’re going to end up,” Clibborn said.
Gregoire has asked lawmakers, in addition to closing the budget gap, to create a buffer of several hundred million dollars in case the economy underperforms, which could require legislators to trim about $1.5 billion more.
Gregoire has proposed cuts that include a shortened school year, elimination of social services for thousands of low-income residents and early release of some prisoners.
She also has proposed a temporary half-cent sales-tax increase that would raise nearly $500 million a year and offset some cuts — particularly in education.
Lawmakers made some adjustments to the state budget during a special legislative session last month, relying on some cuts, transfers and delayed payments.
“You made a down payment in December,” Gregoire said. “I know these will be some of the most difficult decisions of your career. But I ask you to finish quickly because every day the problem gets bigger and the choices harder.”
Gregoire’s sales-tax proposal has a referendum clause, so if passed by the Legislature it ultimately would need voter approval in November.