OLYMPIA — The state will defer nearly $6 million in annual sales taxes that are helping drive increases in Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls, thanks to a bill signed by the governor today.
“With an economy still healing, families still struggling and a recent spike in gas prices, this is the least the state can do for the people and businesses that depend on the Narrows Bridge every day,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, who sponsored the legislation.
“This gives us some breathing room,” said Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor. “But we still need to count every penny the state Department of Transportation spends on tolling so we can keep future toll increases as small as possible.”
Kilmer’s Senate Bill 6073 will defer sales tax due on the construction of the Narrows Bridge, saving roughly $5.8 million in costs to toll payers each year for six years. Seaquist sponsored companion legislation in the House.
The state Transportation Commission recently proposed toll increases of $1 to $1.50 per crossing on the bridge. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Citizen Advisory Committee estimated Kilmer’s bill will save commuters 50 cents per crossing.
The original financing planning for the Narrows Bridge deferred the sales tax on the construction of the bridge until later this year, after which it would be paid in annual installments for the next decade. That was part of the state financing plan that also envisioned tolls rising every two years to meet escalating debt service obligations, eventually rising as high as $6 dollars for both cash payers and Good to Go! transponder users.
“I think asking people to pay a toll to pay tax on a bridge they are already directly financing with their own pocketbook is ridiculous,” said Kilmer. “I’ve long said we need to just exempt the bridge from the sales tax, period, but the deferral in this bill is a step in the right direction.”
The need to make sales tax payments, along with the escalating debt service payments and lower-than-projected traffic volumes, have driven the Citizen Advisory Committee and the Transportation Commission review the size of the toll increases.
Today tolls are $2.75 for customers using transponders, $4 for those who stop at tollbooths, and $5.50 for drivers who are photographed using the bridge without a transponder or paying at the booths.