News Clips— Capitol gridlock

ACCORDING TO the co-chair of the state House of Representatives, leaders of the Puget Sound business elite are putting heavy pressure on legislative leaders to pass a tax bill financing repair and expansion of Washington's clogged transportation system. In Saturday's Seattle Times, Hoquiam Democrat Lynn Kessler named Bill Gates and Boeing CEO Alan Mulally as among those telling legislators to, in Kessler's words, "get your backbones in place and do what you need to do."

What needs doing, according to the compromise plan currently deadlocked in the state Legislature, is to jack up the gasoline tax by 40 percent over the next three years, with diesel users nailed even harder. Buyers of new and used cars, too, would pay more, through an average 20 percent hike in sales taxes. And trucks and RVs would see their weight fees rise 15 percent.

With the consumer shouldering so much of the additional burden, what share do the captains of industry propose to take on? Well, none, actually, though most of the arguments for spending an initial $9 billion of public money on transportation infrastructure specifically cite commerce and industry as major beneficiaries of the plan.

In defense of the purely consumption-based tax approach, business advocates point out that businesses, too, buy their share of gas, diesel, and cars, and that despite significant cutbacks in taxes on business during the last decade, Washington already taxes its businesses at rates 40 percent and more over neighboring states.

Back in January Gov. Gary Locke swore to keep the legislature in session until it passed a transportation finance bill, but planned to give legislators (and himself) political cover by submitting whatever plan resulted as a referendum to voters in November.

But now, Locke and some legislative leaders say, there isn't time to explain the package to the voters properly, so they have to take responsibility for the measure upon themselves. There may be another reason beyond lack of time, however: The same corporate leaders recommending backbone enhancement to legislators recently paid for a statewide poll assessing such a referendum's chances if it involved tax increases. Result? Don't bother.

Roger Downey

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