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Originally published Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 7:52 PM

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State Senate transportation budget relies less on higher fees

The state Senate's transportation package would raise about $212 million in fees over the next three years — $50 million less than what is proposed in the House — through increased charges for car-dealership licenses, replacement motorcycle-license plates and copies of drivers' records.

The Associated Press

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What a misleading headline for an article! Are the taxpayers of this state supposed to... MORE
Indeed - take the word "less" out of the headline, it's the budget that is... MORE

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OLYMPIA — State Senate transportation leaders released a proposed transportation budget Tuesday with fewer fee increases than put forward by their counterparts in the House.

Both plans fell well short of Gov. Chris Gregoire's call last month for an infusion of $3.6 billion in transportation funds over the next decade. The centerpiece of the governor's plan was a $1.50 fee per barrel of oil refined in the state.

"We need to get our economy stronger before we ask for more revenue," said Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

The Senate's transportation package would raise about $212 million in fees over the next three years — $50 million less than what is proposed in the House — through increased charges for car-dealership licenses, replacement motorcycle-license plates and copies of drivers' records.

Under the Senate plan, driver's license fees would also increase by 80 percent and the cost of a title application would spike from $5 to $12.50.

In addition to the Senate-approved fees, House transportation leaders are pursuing increased fees on learner's permits from $20 to $25, on driver's license exams from $20 to $35, and on DUI hearings from $200 to $375. The same hikes were approved by the House last year but didn't survive in the Senate.

House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said the additional fees she is seeking are modest and necessary.

"The more we can get the better off we are, because we're plugging holes all over the budget," Clibborn said.

Haugen said lawmakers have prioritized funding preliminary work on a variety of infrastructure projects that will be ready to go when the Legislature seeks a more significant transfusion of transportation cash. This would likely be through another gas-tax increase within the next two years, she said.

Over the next year, the Senate plan would increase funding for such priorities as highway preservation and maintenance, the State Patrol and ferry operations by about $52 million, or $11 million less than what is proposed in the House.

The Senate's plan also includes a proposal to cut as much as 7 percent of the Department of Transportation's administrative staff by 2015, for a savings of up to $4.2 million annually.

That proposal has yet to be taken up by the House but stands a good chance of moving forward, Clibborn said.

A task force convened by the governor said in December that the state needs to raise $21 billion over 10 years for projects on roads, bridges, ferries and other transportation requirements.

Gregoire expressed disappointment Tuesday over the Senate's proposal, calling the pared-down budget "a Band-Aid approach."

"They're kicking it down the road," she said. "At some point that road is a cliff and we fall off it. You let your infrastructure deteriorate and it will cost you a lot more."

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