House OKs regional highway financing

Friday, February 1, 2002

By DAVID AMMONS
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

OLYMPIA -- The state House approved a regional financing plan for highway projects last night, bowing to the reality that state government can't foot the multibillion-dollar price tag for all huge projects without local voter-approved taxes.

The regional plan, House Bill 2359, would allow counties, either singly or as regional blocs, to go to their voters to request financing for major transportation projects that would be spelled out in the ballot measure.

The menu of taxes available to counties would include a sales tax increase of up to a half-cent, tolls and an annual car tax of as much as $100 a year.

"My take is that the voters will go berserk" with the car tax and tolls, said Rep. Jack Cairnes, R-Renton.

Cities and counties would get 30 percent of the revenue generated by the regional taxes; the rest would funnel through the state for transportation projects selected by the county or region.

The vote on the bill sharply divided the two parties, 51-44. All but one Republican, Tom Campbell of the Pierce County town of Roy, voted against it; all 50 Democrats were in favor.

The Senate approved a regional plan of its own, 31-14, Saturday. House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said he hopes negotiators can iron out the differences next week.

The House version would allow the new regional revenue to be used for state and local roads, mass transit and ferries.

The Senate would allow King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to band together, primarily for highways of statewide significance, such as Interstate 405, state Route 167 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Dollars could be spent only on construction, not for operations.

Both plans would allow funding for a Seattle monorail system.

The regional legislation is meant to work in tandem with a statewide financing plan, taking effect only if lawmakers and voters approve the new statewide revenue. Gov. Gary Locke has proposed a 9-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax to pay for highway and ferry construction.

 


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