Woods bucks party, supports gas tax hike

Second of two parts.

The funding is needed to bring state roads up to snuff, she says.

OLYMPIA – The halls of the state House of Representatives echoed with the sound of applause the night of April 24, the final night of the session, which concluded with passage of the largest gas tax increase in state history.

Among those who breathed a sigh of relief was Rep. Bev Woods (R-Kingston), ranking minority member of the House transportation committee and a leader in creating the $8.5 billion package to renovate much of the state’s transportation infrastructure.

The political stakes were high in the vote, mostly a polarized tally with Democrats favoring a 9.5 cent gas tax increase over the next four years, and most Republicans against it.

Woods and 11 other Republicans broke rank to support the tax increase.

“We have not significantly invested in our infrastructure for years,” Woods said of her decision. “We’ve gotten to the point where we weren’t even keeping up with the maintenance (of the roads).

“We have an obligation as a government to take care of our infrastructure.”

Then came the backlash.

Oppo­nents of the tax hike recoiled and crafted an initiative to repeal the increase, but were given little chance of success, due to both time and financial constraints.

Washingtonians came out in droves to help with the signature drive – more than 500 gatherers in Kitsap County alone – and more than 400,000 names were collected.

Record-high oil prices may have exacerbated motorists’ pique on the issue, as gas prices soared past $2.50 a gallon.

County Republican chair Matthew Cleverley calls the effort “an untamable animal.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed confirmed Initiative 912 on the November ballot, setting up a showdown between rolling back the gas tax to its original 28 cents per gallon – a yes vote – or keeping the new increases, totaling 37.5 cents by 2008, by voting no.

Woods now faces a kind of political mutiny from GOP supporters, who say this year’s gas hike is another example of the Legislature overriding the will of the voters, and is irresponsible government spending.

“You have a legislature that is really out of touch with the public, and the public is not seeing the benefit from (the tax increase),” Cleverley said. “It was kind of a ‘if we get money, then here’s our dream list’ (for projects).”

Woods defends her position, saying the gas hike is absolutely necessary given the state of Washington’s roads, highways and ferries.

“I want people to understand what we’re trying to do before they make a decision” on the initiative, Woods said.

The 16-year transportation plan – the majority of which would be scrapped should I-912 pass – includes $2 billion for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and about $1.5 billion for replacements of portions of the 520 floating bridge and I-405.

The rest of the $8.5 billion is spread about the state to increase safety and perform maintenance, including improvements to more than 180 state bridges the Washington Department of Transportation says are in dire need of repair.

Woods also defends her record as a Republican legislator, stating that while a principle of her party is to keep taxes low and government to a minimum, another maxim says that the state has a responsibility to maintain its infrastructure.

She finds inspiration in her beliefs from fellow Republican presidents Abraham Lincoln – who helped establish the continent-wide Union Pacific Railroad – and Dwight Eisenhower, who signed the federal law creating interstate highways.

“I am a conservative. You can look at my voting record,” Woods said. “A Republican principle is that government does for the people what they cannot do for themselves.

“We must preserve our infrastructure. I believe I am following Republican beliefs.”

Woods said she also worked to install the most rigorous performance auditing measures in the state’s history to ensure the money will be used wisely by the WSDOT.

Her 23rd district representative counterpart, Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), backs Woods, calling her colleague a leader who put partisan politics aside for a “small chunk of change for what we really need.”

“What has happened is that we haven’t been keeping up,” Appleton said of road and highway maintenance. “And we had (transportation committee ranking majority member) Ed Murray (D-Seattle) and Bev Woods guide us, listening from every avenue.”

The November election will determine whether the state’s voters want to ride along on the 9.5 cent increase, or scrap it for a little cheaper gas at the pump.

Woods said she hopes more than anything that political bickering will fall to the wayside and residents will put much thought into the decision.

“I don’t know how it will fare,” she said. “I just ask people to become informed, seek the truth and make up their mind on how they want to move Washington forward.”

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