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Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Critics blast governor’s transportation plan as tax increase

The $3.7 billion transportation package includes increases in fuel, car tabs and heavy commercial licenses.

OLYMPIA -- Gov. Chris Gregoire's $3.7 billion transportation package got a bumpy reception in initial public hearings Tuesday, criticized as taxing oil refiners and motorists too much while providing cities, counties, bus riders and bikers too little.
Gregoire has put forth a 10-year plan of new and higher fees to cover the costs of taking care of the state's highway and ferry system.
The biggest chunk of revenue, $2.75 billion, would come from a new fee of $1.50 per barrel of oil refined into petroleum products that are used for transportation purposes like gasoline and asphalt. Also in the package are new fees on electric vehicles and studded tires plus a $15 increase in car registration tabs.
On Tuesday, the House and Senate transportation committees conducted separate hearings on bills drafted by the governor's office.
"Without this additional revenue, we can't continue to operate and maintain the existing system at the same levels," Assistant Secretary of Transportation David Dye testified to the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
Most of the three dozen speakers at each hearing expressed appreciation of the need for more transportation funding then found faults in Gregoire's proposal.
But oil industry representatives blasted the barrel fee, saying it will hurt businesses, cost jobs and boost the price of gasoline. They also insisted it is a tax and must be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature or a vote of the people -- two huge political hurdles.
"The tax is unfair, it's unreliable and it's likely unconstitutional," said Tim Hamilton of the Automotive United Trade Organization comprised of motor fuel retailers and suppliers.
Anti-tax devotee Tim Eyman of Mukilteo deemed the proposal a "huge tax increase" that the public cannot afford. He said it is an insult to even be considering the package after voters in 2010 overwhelmingly rejected proposals for an income tax and a tax on soft drinks.
Representatives of cities, counties and transit districts politely said they'd like the dollars distributed differently, feeling the state would get too large a share. Bicyclists noted there's no money in the package for nonmotorized transportation and asked for that to change.
Jennifer Ziegler, Gregoire's transportation policy adviser, acknowledged to lawmakers at the outset that this plan is certain to be recalibrated.
"We understand and know very well the concerns," she testified to the House panel before heading to the Senate hearing. "We recognize the legislation is the starting point for the conversation and not necessarily the end."
To read the House version of the governor's proposal, go to http://tinyurl.com/HouseRoadsBill.
The Senate version can be found at http://tinyurl.com/SenateRoadsBill.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.
By the numbers
How much money the fees are projected to raise over 10 years:
• $1.50 fee per barrel of oil refined: $2.75 billion
• $100 fee on each electric vehicle: $10 million
• 15 percent increase in heavy commercial license fee: $177 million
• $15 increase in weight fee for passenger vehicles: $760 million
• $5 fee per studded tire: $7.5 million
Where the money would go:
• $1.62 billion to the state to maintain roads, highways, bridges
• $1.05 billion for preservation of state ferries
• $310 million in grants for cities and counties
• $250 million to curb storm water runoff into Puget Sound
• $200 million for Washington State Patrol staffing
• $150 million in grants for public transit
• $100 million for state share of Amtrak service
Story tags » FerriesGovernorLegislatureRoad RepairTransitTaxes

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