Earlier this month, the state Senate passed a much needed, three-years-in-the-making transportation package on a 27 to 22 bi-partisan vote. The transportation package is a compromise plan and, as such, includes some policies with which both sides do not particularly agree—though the far-left is having some difficulty understanding the concept.
For Republicans, that means a Democrat-backed gas tax increase of 11.7 cents and granting Sound Transit the authority ask voters for $11 billion for its ST3 plan via a ballot measure. As Shift reported, Sound Transit and far-left activists have complained that $11 billion wasn’t good enough. They demand the full $15 billion taxing authority they requested.
The package does include key reforms that Republicans fought hard to incorporate. These reforms are essential for protecting hard-earned taxpayer dollars and transportation funding.
One reform would direct the sales tax paid on transportation projects back into transportation, rather than into the state general fund. Currently, our state charges itself sales tax on materials used in road-construction projects. The “longstanding practice” allows the state to transfer gas-tax money from the state transportation fund to the general fund. The purpose of the scheme is to evade a constitutional amendment (passed by Washington voters) that restricts fuel taxes for transportation purposes.
By ending the practice and eliminating the state sales tax on public road-construction projects, approximately $1.5 billion to 1.8 billion more revenue from the state fuel tax would go to road projects. The reform would go along way toward preventing future transportation funding shortages.
Republicans also insisted on an important consumer protection measure that would keep Jay Inslee from using an executive order to implement his fuel mandate scheme. The safeguard would pull funding from transit if Inslee were to implement a fuel mandate by executive order. If a fuel standard were adopted, “all non-bondable revenues — such as fee-based money going toward transit and bike paths — would instead be moved into the main transportation account.”
Inslee’s fuel mandate scheme, according to experts, would result in an increase of fuel prices by more than $1 per gallon. More than a year ago, Shift uncovered Inslee’s intention to implement a fuel mandate by executive order. A lengthy public records investigation led to the discovery that Inslee and his staff promised their partners in the Pacific Coast Collaborative (the Governors of California and Oregon, and the British Columbia Premier) that Washington would establish a fuel mandate by “administrative rule” (a.k.a. executive order) in “Q1 2015.” That target date was listed in a working draft (PDF) for the PCC.
The transportation package’s consumer protection measure is critical to preventing Inslee from bypassing the state Legislature and implementing his fuel mandate scheme by executive order. For that reason, Inslee and his fellow Democrats have labeled the safeguard provision a “poison pill.”
Tomorrow, state Sen. Curtis King—chair of the Senate Transportation Committee—will testify before the House Transportation Committee in a public hearing on the transportation package. If the unyielding response of certain Democrats in the state Senate is any indication, the transportation package isn’t likely to be greeted with open arms in the Democrat-controlled state House.
As Shift recently pointed out, perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the far-left’s vendetta against the state Senate’s transportation package is their insistence that no ground is given. Far too many Democrats do not want to accept the reality of compromise. They want it all. The state Senate is controlled by Republicans and the state House by Democrats, passing a needed transportation package will require a bi-partisan effort. That means compromise, which means no side will walk away completely happy.
There is one fact that House Democrats cannot escape: Washington State needs a transportation package. Commuters and businesses require reliable transportation improvements, and they’ve waited long enough for the state Legislature to act.