OLYMPIA, Wash — The price of gas may be going down nationally, but Washington drivers — already paying above the national average — may see even higher prices at the pump following Saturday's 7-cent-per-gallon increase in the state's gas tax.
The increase is the first of a two-step jump to pay for transportation projects across the state.
With state gas taxes now up to 44.5 cents a gallon, adding in the current federal gas tax of 18.4 cents, the total per gallon gas tax in Washington is now 62.9 cents. The state increase was part of a $16 billion, 16-year transportation revenue package approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this summer. Next summer, the tax will increase an additional 4.9 cents a gallon, putting the total state tax at 49.4 cents — which based on current rates, would make it the second-highest gas tax in the nation behind Pennsylvania, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
"Nobody likes to have a tax increase. But we haven't been as diligent on maintenance and preservation as we've needed to be," Republican Sen. Curtis King of Yakima said. "We need to invest in that to get caught up. If we don't do it in the next two or three years, those repairs, it's going to cost us three or four times more."
The plan spends $8.8 billion on state and local road projects and $1.4 billion on maintenance and preservation. About $1 billion will go to non-highway projects, such as bike paths, pedestrian walkways and transit. It also allows Sound Transit to ask voters to pay for potential expansions of its rail line.
House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, a Democrat from Mercer Island, said that while the projects will take years, ultimately drivers will see the benefits.
"In the short run they might be looking at construction, but in the long run they will see things continuing to work to meet congestion," she said.
Washington wasn't the only state to increase its gas tax this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah all increased their taxes, while two other states — Kentucky and North Carolina — altered the structure of their gas taxes in order to limit decreasing revenues.
Meanwhile, the average price of gasoline has dropped nationally in recent days. The national average for a gallon of regular gas was at about $2.67 on Friday, according to auto club AAA. That's down 7 cents from the previous week.
The state average is much higher, at about $3.18 per gallon as of Friday. Prices in the state have held pretty steady for the past month, though they are down about 74 cents from a year ago.
Because the gas tax is paid by fuel wholesalers, not added directly to prices at the pump, it's uncertain how much of an increase drivers will see in the coming days and weeks, especially since gas prices fluctuate regularly.
"By the time the fuel arrives at the gas station, the actual tax has been paid on it, however the retailers and distributors factor it into their price," said Tony Sermonti, with the state Department of Licensing, which collects the tax.