As the prospects for a barrel fee on oil refined in Washington State, proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire last month, dimmed, a proposal by state senate transportation committee chair Mary Margaret Haugen that would give cities the authority to put a gas tax of up to three cents on the ballot, and would allow city and county governments to levy a $40 annual vehicle license fee without going to the ballot---twice the current $20 limit---had its first committee hearing today.

Specifically, the legislation would: Allow cities to enact a gas tax of up to three cents, with voter approval (county and city gas taxes, combined, could not exceed three cents per gallon); allow counties and cities to charge a vehicle license fee of up to $40 a year without voter approval (currently, both Seattle and King County charge $20 a year, although King County's fee, which preserved Metro service, is set to expire next year); and allow cities or counties to charge a motor-vehicle license fee of up to 1 percent, or $10 on a $10,000 car, with voter approval.

One concern transit advocates have is that the legislation does not explicitly lay out how the gas tax, vehicle license fee, or MVET could be used to pay for transit. It's unclear, for example, whether the local-option gas tax would be subject to the restrictions in the 18th Amendment of the Washington State Constitution, which mandates that gas tax revenues can only pay for highways.

And initiative hawker Tim Eyman argued that any increase in transportation taxes would violate a long list of state laws, including his own Initiatives 695 and 776, which mandated $30 car tabs.

"I take my kids to Toys 'R' Us all the time and they ask for tons of stuff, but once in a while, I have to say no to them," Eyman told the house transportation committee. "I hope this bill dies an ugly death."

A similar bill by state house transportation chair Judy Clibborn, which includes fewer potential taxes and fees, is reportedly more likely to move forward than Haugen's proposal.
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