Gas tax hike looks likely to be just under 12 cents

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Washington drivers can probably expect an 11.7-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax hike spread across the next three years.

That's because both the House Democrats and Senate Republicans have proposed the same increase in their transportation revenue packages. The House Democrats unveiled their revenue proposal on Tuesday. The GOP-controlled Senate passed its package last month.

The Democratic proposal would spend roughly $15 billion over 16 years, while the Republican package is about $15.1 billion for the same period.

The two sides will begin negotiating in earnest on what the final legislation will look like. In many ways, the two proposals are similar, but they also have enough significant differences to raise the possibility of tense negotiations.

The House Democrats have a provision that also would set $15 billion as the maximum funding request Sound Transit could put before voters. In contrast, the Senate plan would limit Sound Transit to a request of $11 billion.

The GOP Senate's proposal has a provision -- the so-called "poison pill" -- that would shift transit, pedestrian and bike-path money to road projects if Gov. Jay Inslee installs low-carbon fuel standards. The House Democrats' plan would drop the poison pill.

Overall, the Democratic transportation proposal would provide $1.29 billion for the multi-modal projects, while the Senate proposal would allocate $877 million for the transit, pedestrian and bike-path projects.

The Republicans and Democrats are also at odds over two funding shifts. The GOP supports -- and the Democrats oppose -- shifting the funding of stormwater-runoff projects from the gas tax to a state Ecology Department hazardous substances tax.

The Senate Republicans also voted to transfer sales tax revenue on the state’s transportation construction projects from the state’s general fund to a transportation fund. The money comes to roughly $1 billion over the 16-year lifespan of the entire transportation package. The general fund provides money to education, social services and numerous other functions. Democrats argue this money is needed to meet the state education requirements needs from a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling and a 2014 initiative to improve teacher-student ratios in Grades K-12.

“The Senate wants to divert sales tax revenue to pay for transportation, but they also count on it to pay for schools,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. “Double counting money may work for in the Senate, but it doesn’t pencil out for our kids.”

Gov. Jay Inslee praised the House plan. "It addresses concerns I had with the Senate plan that takes funding from schools and local government, diverts dwindling toxic clean-up funds and pits transit funding against clean air," he said.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and lead GOP Senate transportation negotiator, said he had not seen the House proposal and could not comment on it.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8