Legislation sponsored by State Rep. Marko Liias (D-21) that would allow local transit agencies to charge a $20 vehicle-license fee to help fund transit has until tomorrow to make it out of the state House. Last year, after it passed out of both the house and the senate, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed a version of the bill, arguing that local governments already had the authority to charge a countywide fee of up to $100 to create a transportation benefits district to pay for local roads and transit. Gregoire "felt that another $20 added on wasn't necessary," the governor's spokeswoman told the P-I at the time.

The problem with that argument, transit proponents said, was that the existing law requires sign-off from "the county and sixty percent of the cities representing seventy-five percent of the population of the cities within the county in which the countywide fee is collected"—a tougher hurdle than the $20 fee, which would only need the approval of the governing board of each transit agency, such as Sound Transit or King County Metro.

Andrew Austin, Olympia lobbyist for the Transportation Choices Coalition, says this year's bill gets around the "piling on" issue  by imposing a September 1, 2010 deadline for local governments to pass transportation benefits districts without voter approval, and by limiting the total amount of car-tab fees to $100. If the King County Council chose to pass a $20 fee, for example, any future transportation-benefits fee would be limited to $80.

Austin says that although the bill is "definitely not a done deal" in the House, he's "optimistic" that Gregoire will sign it if it makes it out of the Senate as well. The bill has a tough road in the Senate, where transportation committee chair Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano Island) is a prominent opponent. Haugen was on the Senate floor and unavailable for comment this afternoon.

"There was a lot of political pushback last year when the governor vetoed a transit funding bill and then signed an executive order on climate change the very next day," Austin says.

King County Metro raised fares, streamlined schedules, cut stops, and canceled all capital programs to close an anticipated $213 million budget gap in 2010 and 2011, but Metro officials say they'll have to cut service to make up for shortfalls after that.

Gregoire's office has not yet returned a call for comment.