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Sunday, April 24, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Second time's a charm: House passes gas tax hike

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The state House passed an $8.5 billion transportation package today, a day after Republicans derailed it.

The measure, which includes a 9.5 cent gas tax hike, passed on a 54-43 vote. It was defeated Saturday when leaders could only muster 45 votes, five shy of the bare minimum needed for passage.

A revote was taken today, and applause broke out on the floor after it was approved.

The package passed through the Senate earlier in the week with modest bipartisan support, but it melted down in rancor in the House on Saturday.

Democratic leaders have been saying for weeks that the plan would either pass with bipartisan support or not at all. Partisan control of both chambers has flipped back and forth between the two parties in recent years and Democrats fear being targeted in the next election if the gas-tax plan gets labeled a Democratic tax.

Opponents of the bill say the tax increase is too steep, and unsuccessfully demanded a smaller tax hike for transportation.

Earlier the GOP had offered to supply a more generous bloc of votes if the Democrats would give up their plan for a state operating budget that requires about $500 million in new revenue. The Democrats flatly rejected the offer and said transportation historically has been treated in a bipartisan fashion.

Opponents of the bill say the tax increase is too steep, and unsuccessfully demanded a smaller tax hike for transportation.

The gas tax increase would be phased in over four years, beginning with a 3-cent boost in July. The tax now is 28 cents a gallon.

Tolls, local taxes and weight fees on cars, light trucks and SUVs also are planned. The full gas tax hike and weight fee would cost motorists between $67 and $172 a year, depending on vehicle size.

"This package is just too much for the people of Washington state, when you consider the price of gas and what's going on in Washington state with the economy," Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Bellingham said during floor debate Saturday. He voted no again on Sunday.

Supporters said the transportation package pays for essential safety improvements, such as replacing the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct on Seattle's waterfront.

"We face a challenge as to how we're going to fix our aging infrastructure," House Transportation Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said Saturday. "We have a chance here to save lives, move people and deliver goods."

Gov. Christine Gregoire worked behind the scenes to keep the measure on track. On Sunday, she visited leaders in the House and Senate.

The proposed 16-year transportation plan would help finance "mega-projects" such as the viaduct replacement, a new state Route 520 bridge across Lake Washington and improvements on Interstates 405 and 90. It also would finance hundreds of highway and bridge projects, rail, ferries and other improvements.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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