Increasing the WA State Gas Tax Gets a Boost

Wa State Legislators face a tough choice on increasing the gas tax.

Efforts to increase Washington State’s gas tax for maintenance and key projects got a boost from the Senate’s Majority Leader. Senator Rodney Tom made the comments in an interview with the Associated Press reported in The Olympian.

On one hand, the pronouncement is surprising: Tom is “a proponent of fiscal restraint and limited taxes.” It’s those issues, largely, that caused him to form a governing alliance (the “Majority Coalition”) with Republicans who otherwise would have been in the minority. The majority coalition caucus consists of two Democrats and 23 Republicans, giving the caucus a 25-24 edge.

On the other hand, the pronouncement is perhaps not surprising: Tom voted for both the 5-cent gas tax passed in 2003 and the 9.5-cent gas tax increase approved in 2005. He clearly has a history of understanding the safety and congestion relief benefits to travelers, communities and businesses of investing in transportation.

Business, labor and transportation stakeholders are advocating for a gas tax increase to address a growing backlog of maintenance and preservation needs, and to help advance a few key mega-projects. The primary megaprojects vying for funding are the SR 520 floating bridge (a key commuter route), the I-5 Columbia River Crossing (key commuter and freight route), the SR 167 Extension (key freight route), the SR 509 Extension (key freight route) and the Spokane North Corridor Freeway.

The AP’s Jonathan Kaminsky observes that other Legislative leaders reacted cautiously:

“I’d have to see the package, how much it costs, what’s it buy,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville. “There’s way too many variables to comment.”

Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said a new transportation funding package will be necessary within the next few years, but he doubts that one coming out of the Legislature this year without a two-thirds vote could survive at the ballot box.

“You have to have the right balance,” Murray said. “It’s not clear to me that we have done the stakeholder work needed to get enough people on board.”

Tom’s announcement is a big boost, but it may not be enough. The Legislature must deal with a state Supreme-Court directive to plug an education funding shortfall that could range up to $2 billion. There may not be enough political will throughout the Legislature to deal with that issue and a transportation revenue bill in the same year.

Sen. Tom says he would support gas tax increase, ” The Olympian