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News & Music Contributors
Tue April 12, 2011
Dems seek higher transportation fees to help balance budget
An Olympia budget problem:
- Washington's roads need repair and improvements.
- Gas tax revenues are way down because people are driving less and driving more fuel-efficient cars.
- State voters have made it clear they don't want higher taxes.
What's a lawmaker to do?
Democratic budget writers in the Legislature hoping to plug a $5 billion deficit are proposing to raise a slew of fees on everything from getting a drivers license to riding a ferry.
They say they're just trying to bring fees -- many of which haven't been raised in years -- in line with current costs. But skeptical Republicans are cool to the proposal.
... 92 fees (are) being considered for increases under a plan by legislative Democrats to raise $125 million over the next two years for ferries and other fiscally troubled parts of the state’s transportation web
The Herald of Everett spells some of them out:
- Since 1999, it's cost $25 to get a license and $25 to renew it. With this bill, you'd pay $45 for the license and $40 for a renewal.
- Lose your license and it would be $15 for a replacement, up from the present $10 charge. And the price of the driver's exam would rise to $30, from $20.
- Those who have an enhanced driver's license to speed travel in and out of Canada are in for a bit steeper hike. The cost would rise from $15 to $55 under the bills. Renewals would go from $15 to $30.
- Two new fees of note are proposed. One is a $20 charge for the first set of license plates for passenger vehicles, and the other is a $5 fee to be tacked on the price of each studded tire sold in the state.
Most of the new money raised by the higher fees would be put toward offsetting reductions planned in the proposed transportation budgets. The Herald explains ...
For example, those legislative budgets require Washington State Ferries to trim $4 million worth of service in the next two years. That means a number of sailings will be canceled. These bills earmark $4 million to state ferries to avert those cancellations.
Doug Levy, a lobbyist for Puyallup and other cities that back higher fees, told lawmakers at a public hearing on Monday that it was time.
Businesses have not thought twice about adjusting their fees to align with their costs since 1999.
Nonetheless, truckers, auto dealers, wreckers and other businesses that would be hit by the proposed increases say the higher fees would be a burden.
The News Tribune explains:
Unlike tax increases that require a supermajority of the Legislature, fee increases need only a simple majority vote. Democrats can pass them on their own – if they unite on a plan. Some moderate Democrats said they are open to raising road-related fees if the right ones are chosen.
So far, the Rs are showing little enthusiasm for the plan. Sen. Curtis King of Yakima told the News Tribune he's worried about the effects of the economic downturn:
“We understand the need. We’re concerned about the timing.”