OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington State Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said Tuesday that he would support an increase in the state's gas tax to fund road projects.
Tom told The Associated Press that voters are more comfortable with tax hikes closely linked to upgrading important government services that cannot easily be provided by private industry.
"If you want new roads you pay for new roads," he said. "There's a direct nexus there."
Tom, D-Medina, who is now majority leader of a new "majority coalition" caucus of consisting of two Democrats and 23 Republicans, is a proponent of fiscal restraint and limited taxes.
However, he singled out transportation and education as two areas that "we need to focus on and do them in a manner of excellence."
Tom notes that he voted for both the five-cent gas tax passed in 2003 and the 9.5 cent gas tax increase approved in 2005.
Among the large road projects standing to benefit from increased transportation funding are the Columbia River Crossing connecting Interstate 5 between Vancouver to Portland, the North Spokane Corridor project and the 520 floating bridge connecting Seattle to Bellevue.
Tom also said he will work to increase funding for education. Unlike with transportation funding, he said, he will seek to pay for such increases by cutting other government spending.
"The education budget currently is under $14 billion," he said. "We have $32.2 billion dollars to spend. Fourteen is less than 32."
Senate leaders from both sides of the aisle responded to Tom's comments cautiously.
"I'd have to see the package, how much it costs, what's it buy," said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville. "There's way too many variables to comment."
Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said a new transportation funding package will be necessary within the next few years, but he doubts that one coming out of the Legislature this year without a two-thirds vote could survive at the ballot box.
"You have to have the right balance," Murray said. "It's not clear to me that we have done the stakeholder work needed to get enough people on board."