This Washington

Task Force Recommends $20B for Transportation

By Erica C. Barnett December 13, 2011

The Connecting Washington Task Force, a group appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to come up with recommendations for a statewide transportation funding package, formally recommended a $20 billion package yesterday, along with a list of potential local funding options that could be funded either by city councils directly or by city voters.

The $20 billion would be focused on maintaining and operating the state and cities' existing transportation infrastructure, with some new investments in key economic corridors. However, the committee members, who include elected officials, environmental advocates, industry representatives, and appointed officials like state transportation secretary Paula Hammond, did not recommend a specific list of projects. Nor did they make recommendations on how much of the money should be spent on various transportation modes, beyond proposing that the majority of any package go to the state department of transportation (WSDOT), with a slim minority going to transit projects and improvements.

The last time legislators passed a big transportation package, in 2005, conservative radio host John Carlson ran an unsuccessful initiative to repeal it.

The task force left pretty much every possible funding option on the table, and even added a few new options. Among other possibilities, the state-level funding options could include tolling, $100 fees for electric vehicles, additional gas taxes, a statewide motor vehicle excise tax, and a tax on vehicle miles traveled.

At the local level, cities could get a number of new options, including local tolls, a local MVET, a local option fuel tax, or a local property tax.

The consensus on the task force seemed to be that the state legislature should pass legislation funding maintenance and operations needs without a public vote---easier said than done, given that any new taxes require a two-thirds vote (fees require only a simple majority)---and put capital projects on a statewide ballot.

Seattle City Council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen, who sits on the task force, said the city would prefer that the state give it as many options to raise transportation revenue without going to the voters as possible---preferably by a simple-majority vote, rather than the two-thirds vote the King County Council needed to pass a $20 vehicle license fee to save Metro earlier this year. "Those of us who represented local jurisdictions strongly emphasized the importance of giving us options and a lot of flexibility," Rasmussen said this morning.

The task force will issue a full report by the end of the year, and hopes to send a statewide revenue package to voters in November.

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