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Democratic lawmakers introduce $16 billion transportation spending proposal

The gas tax would not be raised to help pay for the transportation package, lawmakers said Tuesday.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Democratic state lawmakers introduced a $16 billion spending proposal that invests in transportation improvements in Washington state over the next 16 years.

The package, introduced Tuesday, includes funding that will allow people 18 and under to take public transit for free. It would also funnel millions in additional money for bike and pedestrian projects.

Millions more would be invested in high-speed rail. Another $1.3 billion would be spent to build four hybrid-electric ferries and electrify two ships operated by Washington State Ferries, and $2.6 billion would go to replace fish passage culverts.

Dubbed "Move Ahead Washington," the chairs of the House and Senate Transportation Committee detailed the package during a virtual news conference Tuesday.

"It's future-oriented, while still dealing with realities that people face today," said House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma).

Typically, raising the gas tax might be considered to help pay for a transportation package, but not this time.

"We've heard loud and clear that working families are still facing the brunt of the economic burden caused by the pandemic. That's why there is no gas tax in this package," said Senate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Marko Liias (D-Everett).

Instead, over the next 16 years, the plan taps into billions from federal funds, a one-time transfer of $2 billion from the operating budget, $2 billion from a 6-cent exported fuel tax, and $5.4 billion from the Climate Commitment Act, which passed the state Legislature last year.

Millions more would come from other revenue streams such as increased driver's license and plate fees. The proposal includes a $24 fee increase to $42 for a six-year, enhanced driver's license. The fee for an eight-year license would go up by $32 to $56 on October 1, 2022.

The package was introduced to the dismay of ranking members of the Republican House and Senate Transportation Committee, who said they were not part of the conversation in the proposal's development before it was announced.

House Transportation Lead Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia) and Senate Transportation Committee Lead Sen. Curtis King said they were "disappointed" that the proposal did not have the bipartisan support that traditionally characterizes transportation improvement efforts.

"There's a lot of things in here that are good that we need to address, but it's going to be very difficult to throw support behind this," Barkis said.

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