EDITORIAL Gas tax hike can't be avoided

Nobody wants to pay more for gasoline, but it doesn’t take a traffic engineer to recognize that an increase in the gas tax is necessary.

Locally, Highway 20 from Whidbey Island to Anacortes and Mount Vernon could bear the name of Whidbey Playhouse’s upcoming production: Deathtrap. Left turn lanes and other safety improvements are long overdue. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

This is no isolated case of a single dangerous highway. The state’s population has doubled in the last 20 years. Spending on roads has not kept up. Interstate 5 is an embarrassment in many places. Each lane features a high spot flanked by two ruts. It looks like a wagon trail and rides like one, too. Lives are no doubt lost because the road surface is uneven, causing drivers to lose control in a microsecond of inattention.

The governor is proposing an additional gas tax of 9 cents per gallon. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, our 10th District senator, says 12 cents is needed but 9 cents is better than nothing. And nothing is what we’ve been given in recent years by a State Legislature paralyzed by partisan politics and indecision.

It’s easy to sympathize with the “no new tax” crowd. The state Department of Transportation, like any huge bureaucracy, spends money inefficiently. The state’s economy is in recession and this is a bad time to be asking taxpayers, many of whom are now out of work, to pay more at the gasoline pump.

Nevertheless, our system of roads is insufficient to safely accommodate our population, and the asphalt is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Only a sizable gas tax increase can produce enough money to begin dealing with the problem.

The Legislature should do what is obviously necessary and raise the gas tax. And don’t pawn off the decision on the voters, even though Tim Eyman thinks he’s the fourth branch of government. The gas tax needs to be raised now, not after a long, costly election process.

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