The state Legislature passed the $16 billion, 16-year transportation early this morning, overcoming last-minute obstruction from Senate Democrats that forced senators to return to the floor at dawn and pass changes made by the state House in a 37-8 bi-partisan vote.
In order to complete the package, the House still must pass a bonding bill and spending bill approved by the Senate. The bills designate money to specific projects.
As Shift reported, the transportation plan prioritizes spending on the widening and expansion of highways. It funds projects that are vital to building a sustainable jobs future in Washington State. The reality is that commuters and businesses have waited long enough for much-needed transportation improvements.
The transportation package includes big wins for Republicans. The package includes an important reform that will change the way the state uses taxpayers’ hard-earned tax dollars. 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, going around a constitutional amendment passed by Washington voters that restricts fuel taxes for transportation purposes.
The package ends the practice of charging sales tax on materials in transportation projects and ensures gas tax dollars go toward their constitutional use. That means Olympia Democrats will no longer be able to divert money intended for transportation to their campaign donors.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the final transportation package is that it will stop Jay Inslee’s plan to raise gas prices with a fuel mandate scheme, as the bill includes the all-important consumer protection provision demanded by the Senate. That means Jay Inslee will not be able to jam through a fuel mandate by executive order. If Inslee attempts to impose his extreme scheme by executive order the money spent on things he really likes, such as transit and bike paths, will be moved back into the main transportation account.
Absent the Senate’s consumer protection provision, Inslee would have certainly moved forward with his radical plan to increase fuel prices by up to $1-plus per gallon — an increase that impacts everything from heating your home, to the cost of groceries, as well as the price you pay at the pump.
The package does contains compromise measures needed to get it through the Democrat-controlled House, including approval for Sound Transit to place its next money-grabbing initiative (ST3) on the ballot next year. But, the compromises do not detract from Republicans’ win. The simple fact is that without this transportation package Inslee would have been able to jam through a fuel mandate by executive order (which he had promised his big environmental donors, back in 2013, he would do). That means gas prices would have increased anyway—only at a much higher, unprecedented rate. And, our state would have never seen the benefits of new highway projects. In fact, working families would have been dealt an economic blow and our state’s economic growth would have been stunted. Adding insult to injury, nothing would have stopped tax dollars from being diverted away from much needed transportation improvements into the pockets of Democrats’ million-dollar, special interests campaign donors.
Inslee attempted to downplay what is obviously a huge defeat for his administration, saying in a recent statement, “I’ve been fighting to get a transportation package since my first day…” Of course, that claim could not be further from the truth. Calling the key compromise (the consumer protection provision) a “poison pill” is an example of attacking the transportation package, not fighting for it. Not to mention all Inslee’s attempts to sabotage the package. Try as he might to change the message, the passage of the transportation package is major defeat for Inslee.