Now isn't time to boost gas, car-tab taxes

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We are in favor of good highways and bridges. No, great highways and bridges.

But who isn’t? Well, nobody.

It is very easy to get behind a plan to significantly boost Washington state’s transportation infrastructure, it’s paying for all those improvements where support drops off.

Last week state lawmakers trotted out at an ambitious transportation program that would pour billions of dollars into highway projects. The list of proposed projects is long, but a few examples include widening Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, reducing Interstate 5 congestion and building a new bridge over the Columbia River to Portland.

Everything about this plan sounds on target except for the cost. It’s a $10 billion package that would be funded by boosting gas tax and increasing car tabs. It even includes a $25 sales tax on bicycles valued at $500.

This funding plan, in a word, stinks. Washington state’s economy is sputtering like a two-stroke engine trying to start.

The escalating cost of gasoline takes a bigger bite out of household budgets than it did even a few years ago. The proposed dime increase in the gas tax would be another big hit for folks trying to weather the waning months (we hope) of the Great Recession.

It becomes even more difficult to absorb if a higher car-tab tax is added. The plan is to impose an annual tax equal to 0.7 percent of a vehicle’s value. That is an extra $175 for a car valued at $25,000.

The transportation package is the brainchild of House Democrats. Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signaled tepid support for the transportation-improvement effort.

“We can’t afford to not take action and this is a job I expect the Legislature to accomplish,” he said. “I’ll be working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to craft a package that they can send to my desk for approval.”

But how could Inslee approve a plan with tax hikes when he, as candidate Inslee, pledged this fall not to support tax hikes? It will be interesting to see how Inslee explains his 180-degree turn if he signs off on more taxes.

We are not necessarily against raising taxes. It’s all about the state’s needs juxtaposed with the timing. We, for example, supported a 5-cent-a-gallon tax on gas about a decade ago because we — as well as Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla — believed the transportation issues were critical to Washington’s future at that moment.

Yes, the state’s transportation system needs a lot of work, but the money isn’t available and raising taxes now is simply not prudent.

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