Washington drivers would pay 3 cents a gallon more at the pump to help fund road improvements and cover revenue losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic under a proposal released Friday by Republican state Sen. Curtis King.
In addition, sales taxes on bicycles and bike parts would rise 2 cents on the dollar, transit riders would pay a 20-cents-per-trip surcharge and ferry passengers would pay an extra 25 cents per crossing. People taking Uber and Lyft would pay an additional 50 cents per ride.
“It’s time we made everybody contribute and pay for what they use,” said King, of Yakima, the ranking Republican on the state Senate Transportation Committee who represents the 14th Legislative District.
The $10 billion, eight-year proposal would devote most spending to highway maintenance and preservation “where we have the most serious problems with our transportation system,” King said.
King’s proposal joins two other transportation plans drafted so far this legislative session. Two Democratic plans would increase gas taxes, charge a carbon fee and spend more on non-highway projects, including conversion of state ferries to electric power.
King’s proposal would have a shorter timeline than the 12- and 16-year plans released by the Democratic lawmakers because, he said, the Legislature should be able to re-evaluate and adjust plans as projects change and technology develops after eight years.
Nearly $1.8 billion would be allocated to five megaprojects, including money toward replacing the Interstate 5 bridges between Portland and Vancouver. The cracked West Seattle Bridge, “a critical bridge that needs to be repaired as quickly as possible,” would get $25 million, King said.
The plan also would devote nearly $2.4 billion to replace fish culverts to “get that behind us.” The state is under a court order to replace culverts that block salmon migration.
King’s proposal would pull some money from the state’s operating budget. He said transportation projects spur economic development that leads to increased sales tax revenue, which goes back to the operating fund. The money from the operating budget would be reimbursed at the same amount or even more, because of new revenue from taxes, he said.
“Every time we build a new bridge, every time we fix an interchange, there is economic development that takes place,” King said. “That economic development brings jobs, those jobs bring wages, those people who make those wages go out and spend it.”
King is realistic about the prospects of his proposal.
“I’m just hoping people will look at it and think about it,” he said. “We’ll see where it takes us.”
He presented the proposal to his Republican colleagues but has not discussed details with them or with Democrats.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he welcomes King’s ideas and has also been reviewing plans offered by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña of Seattle and Rep. Jake Fey of Tacoma, both Democrats.
“There are many different ideas regarding the future of transportation in Washington, but the common thread is a commitment to get this done,” Hobbs said in an email. “I look forward to reintroducing my own plan, Forward Washington, in the coming weeks and incorporating these ideas into the latest version of it.”
In 2019 and 2020, Hobbs proposed a $16 billion package that focused on reducing traffic congestion.
Democrats also have shown interest in ambitious plans to tackle the transportation sector’s contributions to climate change.
Saldaña proposes a 12-year, $14.3 billion plan that would levy a carbon fee as well as a tax on luxury aircraft and yachts. Her plan would spend $1.9 billion on maintenance.
Fey’s proposal calls for a 16-year, $27 billion program that would include a $15 per ton fee on carbon emissions and an 18-cent hike in gas taxes, phased over two years.
Of the options he’s heard, King is most in favor of a carbon tax because “it’s easier to administer and generates more money.”
King also wants to incentivize hydrogen-powered cars, devoting $300 million in his plan to helping with the production of hydrogen, installing service stations and providing incentives for the purchase of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.
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