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House Democrats propose gas tax hike to pay for transportation projects

Fin Umbra is a bartender who is out of work since March because of COVID-19.

“At this point in my life, I’m not interested in raising prices on anything,” he said.

As he put gas in the car he’s now living out of while he couch surfs, we asked him about a proposal to raise the state’s gas tax by 18 cents over two years.

“It’s kind of an untimely request,” Umbra said. “All my unemployment’s delayed, so just scraping by. I just put the last 10 dollars I have in my car.”

His reaction suggests House Democrats in the state Legislature could face a tough sell for their 16-year, $26 billion proposal to raise gas taxes and carbon fees to pay for transportation projects.

It would create the highest gas taxes in the country.

When state and federal taxes are added up with a proposed carbon fee, taxes and fees could reach $1 per gallon.

“Our proposal is much more substantial than any in state history because the needs and challenges are so much bigger,” said Rep. Jake Fey, the Democrat who chairs the House transportation committee, at a news conference on Tuesday.

The plan would spend $4.6 billion on maintenance and preservation and $1 billion on the state’s portion of a new Interstate 5 Columbia River crossing.

Other big projects are not yet specified, but sponsors said the West Seattle Bridge and the US2 trestle in Snohomish County would get money.

In all,3 1/2 billion dollars would cover the state’s court-mandated commitment to improve fish passage in highway culverts.

There would also be money to electrify state ferries to reduce their carbon emissions.

“It will create an environmentally just transportation system that works for everyone. It’s also about hard hats and helmets. It’s going to put people to work,” said Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane.

Democrats control both houses.

Because this proposal doesn’t include selling bonds, it can pass with a simple majority.

“I think it’s the wrong time,” said Rep. Andrew Barkis, the Republican’s ranking member on the House transportation committee. “People are suffering right now. The state’s still shut down. Businesses are closed. People are having a hard time paying the rent.”

Another proposal in the Legislature for a low carbon fuel standard could also raise gas prices.

Democrats in the Senate are expected to release their own transportation plan next week, which will likely be similar to a $17 billion package previously proposed.