Walla Walla mayor signs letter supporting gas tax increase

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WALLA WALLA — Mayor Jim Barrow was one of dozens of Washington state mayors who recently signed a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington state Legislature in support of a gasoline tax increase.

The endorsement is being received with mixed reactions from other Walla Walla City Council members.

Most favor finding new ways to raise funds for deterorating roads, and most also wish they could have discussed the matter prior to Barrow’s endorsement.

“I understand that it is a good cause and we do need to take care of the mess we have with our own city streets ... To me, I would have been more comfortable if he would have asked the Council instead,” Council member Conrado Cavazos said.

The letter was dated Feb. 13 from the Mayor’s Transportation Forum. It included signatures of 44 mayors, but only two mayors were from Eastern Washington. Kennewick Mayor Steve Young also signed it.

The letter proposed an 8-cents per gallon gasoline tax increase, as well as giving municipalities the option of increasing the vehicle license fee up to $20 and a 1.5 percent vehicle excise tax increase.

Last week, House Democrats in Olympia released a transportation package that would increase the gas tax by 10 cents, among other fee increases to raise $9.8 billion over the next decade, according to The Associated Press.

Republicans, who control the Senate, are also said to be in favor of some sort of increase to raise money for roads, with Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom stating last month he would support a gas tax hike, The Associated Press reported.

Council member Shane Laib is in Olympia working as a legislative assistant to Sen. Michael Baumgartner during the current session. He said it was while at work that he got news of Barrow’s endorsement.

“I didn’t know about it. ... one of my counterparts in Olympia came to me and said ‘Your mayor signed off on a gas tax request.’ And so he forwarded it to me. And I was really shocked. Not that I am for or against a gas tax, but this wasn’t discussed with Council,” Laib said.

In spite of being caught off guard, Walla Walla City Council members were mostly supportive of the gas tax and other increases.

“We have to have a way of paying for our infrastructure and highways and our maintenance of our highways. And that is the bottom line. How that should be paid is a good question?” Council member Jerry Cummins said, adding he wants to see a gas-tax increase go to a public vote.

Cummins, who is the longest serving City Council member for Walla Walla, has also served three terms as mayor.

When asked if he would have endorsed the letter without first conferring with his colleagues, he replied, “I would not have.”

Barrow said he faced a time constraint when his endorsement was requested, and that there has long been a consensus among City Council members that new ways of funding roads must be developed.

“The request to sign the letter came really quickly in a rather busy time. And I was gone for some time and other Council members were gone at the time ... but we talked about this in the Council. Not the letter, specifically, but we have talked about the principal several times,” Barrow said.

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