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Originally published April 23, 2013 at 4:56 PM | Page modified April 23, 2013 at 4:56 PM

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Editorial: Go carefully on gas tax increase

Making the state’s transportation infrastructure safe to travel should be a top priority. As fuel tax revenues decline, state legislators must find a way to preserve what we already have.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Quit using gas tax money to subsidize public transit and their would be plenty of money... MORE
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NO one wants to pay more at the gas pump, but a state House proposal to gradually increase Washington’s fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon over the next four years is an option that deserves cautious consideration.

The House Transportation Committee passed a 12-year, $8.4 billion revenue package Monday that includes this option, as well as increased weight fees, higher registration costs and authority for local counties to ask voters to approve additional cost hikes. The Associated Press reports $600 million of the package would come from existing fees; an additional $3.7 billion from issuing bonds.

Caution is key.

Charging drivers more at both the local and statewide level could have negative consequences for the slowly recovering economy.

What lawmakers should do is weigh their choices and take extra care to explain to taxpayers exactly where their money is going.

The House measure includes megaprojects, such as linking highways 167 and 509 to Interstate 5, improving the North Spokane Corridor and a $450 million allocation toward the new Columbia River Crossing bridge on Interstate 5 that connects Vancouver and Portland.

Critics convincingly argue too much money in the House proposal is earmarked or bonded for new projects and not enough is spent to maintain the current system.

Less than $1 billion would be set aside for maintenance, operations and preservation — far short of the $3.1 billion over 10 years suggested by the Washington Roundtable, a consortium of businesses, many of which rely on roads to transport goods to port.

House members should take some cues from the Senate‘s transportation budget, which passed by floor vote last week by a unanimous vote.

The senators reached that bipartisan conclusion by budgeting a more modest amount of $81.9 million toward the contentious Columbia River Crossing project, just enough to keep it alive and pay for possible design changes pending a U.S. Coast Guard review.

Lawmakers are sure to reconcile their differences in the closing days of the session.

They should keep the overall discussion about new projects going, but focus first on fixing the roads in front of them.

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