The state senate transportation committee---traditionally the place where transit bills go to die---passed a bill this week that would expand local funding options for transportation and local road projects.

Specifically, the bill would allow cities, like Seattle, that have formed a transportation benefits district, and counties to impose a vehicle license fee of up to $40 without voter approval (currently, both King County and Seattle are limited to a $20 license fee unless they go to the ballot); a motor-vehicle excise tax of up to one percent, with or without voter approval; and a gas tax of up to three cents for counties, and up to one cent for cities, with voter approval (that's a change from the previous version, which gave cities three-cent gas-tax authority.)

The combined gas taxes of an overlapping city and county could not exceed three cents total, and a city or county could not impose both a motor-vehicle excise tax and a vehicle license fee.

The vote was mostly along party lines, with one Republican, Dan Swecker (R-20, Centralia) breaking ranks to vote with the committee's Democratic majority, and one Democrat, Tim Sheldon (D-35, Grays Harbor) breaking ranks to vote against the bill

Republican Curtis King (R-14, Yakima) argued that it was unfair to tax drivers to pay for transit, and suggested that any fee for transit should have to go to a vote of the people. "You're saying to the people that own a car, 'You get to pay this one percent and we're going to give the money to the transit agencies so that all the people who want to ride the buses can do it at a very low rate," King said. "That's not fair. That's not equitable." (Actually, roads are more heavily subsidized than transit).

Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano Island), the committee chair and the sponsor of the bill, responded: "I have a lot of disabled people in my district, and those people would never get to to go to a movie, they would never get to go to town" without access to transit. With the aging population, she added, "we're going to want a few more people off the road. ... The truth of the matter is we are a graying society and we need to have some alternatives."

The bill now goes to the senate rules committee and a likely senate vote.


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