Compromise Reached on Transportation Budget

By Jordan Schrader, April 26, 2013, The Olympian

Lawmakers merged two mostly similar transportation budgets and came out with a deal Thursday that is expected to be approved by the time the gavel falls to end the regular session Sunday.

Still to come, possibly — and not likely until an expected special session begins — is a proposal to raise more money for transportation through higher gas taxes and fees.

But the no-new-taxes budget resolves a few of the minor differences between the two sides on spending for the next two years:

It would freeze fees for access to driving records, which could scuttle state government’s plans to privatize its “e-government” services. The company NIC Inc. is negotiating to take over the state’s main website and electronic transactions, which would likely be funded with new charges for businesses wanting driving records. Lawmakers said the charge could raise the current $13 fee to $15 and they oppose such an increase.

It calls for spending $400,000 on the next phase of study on charging drivers by the mile instead of by the gallon of gas. The state Transportation Commission would develop “the business case for a road usage charge system” and clarify the ”governance” of such a tax.

It calls for a plan to open the Good to Go toll payment system to ferry fares. The idea is to have the ferry system’s payments, reservations and customer service operate on the Good to Go system. The study would cost $250,000 from a ferry fund with results due to the Legislature Jan. 14.

It would restore power to the Transportation Commission to set ferry fares and tolls on the Tacoma Narrows bridge, with some limitations, but would not do the same for other toll projects.

It would give the state toll division a bit more money, $63 million up from $56 million in the current two-year budget period, but call for administrative efficiencies to constrain the increasing spending.

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