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Washington Considers Raising Gas Tax to Pay for Transportation Improvements


 Washington State lawmakers consider transportation funding options.

Update, 3.2.2015, 4:15 pm: Washington senators have voted 27-22 in favor of the Senate's transportation plan, which includes increasing the gas tax by five cents in the summer of 2015, by 4.2 cents in 2016, and by 2.5 cents in 2017. The measure now moves to the House. Governor Inslee responded, "Today’s vote is solid progress and it begins the next round of negotiations."

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee in December announced a comprehensive $12 billion transportation package that seeks to increase the safety of aging infrastructures, relieve traffic congestion, fund more environmentally friendly transportation options, and create jobs. To pay for all this, the governor would like to create a “major shift in transportation funding.”

If the governor gets his way, revenue will be raised primarily through fees, bonding, and a new carbon pollution charge. His plan would:

  • Authorize Sound Transit in King County to seek voter-approved increases in property tax, sales tax, and MVET.
  • Authorize Community Transit in Snohomish County to see voter-approved additional sales and use tax.
  • Authorize the creation of Passenger-only Ferry Districts that could seek voter-approved independent taxing to establish passenger-only ferry service.
  • Create an alternative fuel vehicle sales tax exemption (See SB 5445 and HB 1925).
  • Create a market-based carbon pollution fee that forces the state’s worst polluters to pay and also reduce emissions.

According to the Seattle Times, “the oil industry has displayed little desire to cooperate” with Governor Inslee’s cap-and-trade legislation. The Washington State Senate is also leaning against it. The Senate’s transportation plan includes a gas tax increase—which the governor deliberately excluded from his plan—as wells as a provision that “would shift much of the package’s transit, pedestrian and bike-path money to work on roads if Gov.  Jay Inslee installs low-carbon fuel standards.”

At 55.9 cents per gallon, Washington State has the sixth’s highest gas taxes in the country. If the Senate’s proposed increases are approved, gas taxes will jump by 11.7 cents per gallon. Governor Inslee’s response to the Senate’s plan was equivocal. He praised the fact that it “funds safety and maintenance, completes projects, authorizes light rail and invests in multimodal like transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects.” However, he questioned “the total amount of sales tax proposed to be moved from the operating budget, changes to worker wages,” and the fact that “if Washington adopts a low carbon fuel standard to reduce emissions, we lose transit funding.”

To stall a February 27, 2015, vote on the Senate’s transportation package, Democratic Senator Annette Cleveland asked Lt. Gov. Brad Owen to determine whether or not a gas tax hike requires a two-thirds majority to pass. He is expected to give his answer today.

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Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.