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Updated Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 01:26 PM

Officials contemplating raising fuel taxes, fees for roads, Metro

By Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times transportation reporter

Elected officials in the Seattle area are uniting on a wish list for the 2013 Legislature: a combination of fuel and car-tab tax increases for transportation, including $85 million a year for bus service at King County Metro Transit.

State gasoline taxes would increase 8 cents a gallon, with 65 percent of that going to state highways and 35 percent to local street funds.

In addition, a local car-tab tax of as much as $150 per $10,000 of vehicle value would go to transit and roads.

King County could decide either to enact it or put it to a citizen ballot, said Fred Jarrett, deputy King County executive. Metro would get 60 percent, while a 40 percent roads share would be divided among the county-road fund and various cities, based on population, he said. In addition, cities and counties could enact a $40 car-tab fee by a vote of their elected officials.

The Seattle-area proposal is just one of a half-dozen scenarios being juggled in Olympia. So it should be seen as a starting point, not an endpoint, for political bargaining in 2013.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine signed the letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire, dated Dec. 14, joined by Renton Mayor Denis Law, board president of the 35-member Sound Cities Association.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said she's trying to merge the many requests into a single proposal, which she would issue in late January.

Washington state motorists now pay a 37.5-cent state tax plus an 18.4-cent federal tax for a total of 55.9 cents, the ninth-highest gas tax in the U.S.

Proposals include:

• Gov. Gregoire on Tuesday proposed a wholesale gas tax — gradually rising to the equivalent of 12 cents a gallon by 2017 — to pay for yellow-school buses, thereby freeing up as much as $900 million for districts to spend in the classroom by the 2017-19 biennium.

• The business group Washington Roundtable seeks a gas tax rising to 9 cents by 2015, a car-tab tax of $60 cents per $10,000 value, and freight-truck taxes. Two-thirds of the money would build or finish major corridors such as the Highway 520 bridge or Highway 509, and one-third would go to maintenance, with none toward local streets and transit.

• The state Transportation Commission suggests a gas tax rising to 10 cents by 2019, entirely devoted to state and local maintenance including ferries. Another car-tab tax, of $150 per $10,000 for the state and an optional $50 for local governments, would include highway megaprojects, with a small share to transit.

• Clibborn said Friday she's mulling a gas tax of maybe 9 cents for highways, plus a smaller car-tab tax of $60-$70 per $10,000 shared among ferries, transit and local streets and giving local governments some leeway to add additional taxes.

"Can we defend that? I think we can," she said. Clibborn worries higher car-tab requests will create a voter backlash. She also emphasizes tolls will help pay for any new highway segments.

Gov.-elect Jay Inslee hasn't yet aired his ideas for a transportation-funding package.

As Interstate 5 in Western Washington slowly wears out, a more immediate crisis faces King County Metro, which surpassed 400,000 daily riders in October and expects rapid growth in 2013. Its temporary $20 car-tab fee expires in mid-2014, and cash reserves will run low, said Jarrett, forcing Metro to find other sources or cut service.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.


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