This special session, the state legislature must pass both an operating budget for the next two years and a transportation package that meets our state’s pressing mobility needs. Commuters and businesses require reliable transportation improvements, and they’ve waited long enough for the state legislature to act.
Almost two months ago, the state Senate passed a bi-partisan transportation package. The bill passed with the support of seven Democrats and it includes key funding provisions and real reforms. Republicans who control the Senate proved they were willing to meet Democrats half-way by including a gas tax that is almost identical to the size of the tax passed by House Democrats two years ago—as the Seattle Times recently pointed out, the size of the tax is common ground for moving forward. As it stands today, the bi-partisan transportation package would also allow Sound Transit to ask voters for an additional $11 billion in new taxes via a ballot measure next year.
The package also includes key reforms that Republicans fought hard to incorporate. These reforms are essential for protecting hard-earned taxpayer dollars and transportation funding.
With an eye toward protecting designated transportation funds in the future, Republicans insisted on a reform would direct the sales tax paid on transportation projects into improving our roads, rather than siphoning that money off into the state general fund. Currently, our state charges itself sales tax on materials used in road-construction projects. The “longstanding practice” instituted by Democrats allows the state to transfer gas-tax money from transportation projects 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 fought for an important consumer protection measure that would keep Jay Inslee from using an executive order to bypass the legislature and jam though a fuel mandate scheme—a scheme that, according to experts, could result in an increase of fuel prices by more than $1 per gallon. The safeguard would pull funding from the items Inslee and the Democrats like more than fixing our roads if he was 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.”
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. It ensures taxpayers do not face another, far more costly gas price increase.
The Democrat-controlled state House has yet to pass their version of a transportation package, with only the House Transportation Committee passing a proposal. The House approach at least agrees with the Senate on the funding of some urgent transportation projects—though, notably, the liberals’ proposal would set back the four-lane completion of SR 167 and SR 509 by 16 years due to its failure to prioritize funds. The House Democrats also disagree with the Senate’s proposal in a big way, with the House completely eliminating every transportation reform proposed by Republicans. Rather, Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn and her charges opt for a highly partisan, business-as-usual approach.
The fact that the House transportation proposal is devoid of needed transportation reforms hasn’t stopped Democrats from claiming it offers “reforms.” In a recent op-ed entitled, “House transportation plan offers relief and reform,” Democrat state Rep. Jake Fey spends the whole of the article explaining which transportation projects the House proposal allocate funds. He also praises the proposal for allowing Sound Transit to ask voters’ for the $15 billion the transit bureaucrats originally sought, rather than the $11 billion that Senators compromised on. It’s only at the very end, in a couple of sentences, that readers find out what kind of “reforms” Democrats offer. Fey writes,
“We also understand the need for reform, which is why we passed legislation to reform project delivery, streamline permitting and make agencies more accountable. These are real reforms that will generate real savings.”
In other words, Fey classifies the implementation of lean management strategies as “reforms.” To be fair, these are reforms that must take place—unnecessary red-tape costs taxpayers and must be eliminated. But, these are nowhere near on the scale of reforms proposed in the bi-partisan Senate package. Weakening his argument, Fey goes on to lambast the Senate’s plan to protect taxpayer-dollars allocated toward transportation funding.
“Any transportation package must include greater accountability measures and cost-savings when we build projects and allocate funds. We cannot commit billions of taxpayer money without major reforms to our transportation system.
“The House proposal falls woefully short on major reforms. Sales tax reform to protect transportation revenue for building and maintaining roads: gone. Valuable reforms to our ferry system that would save millions and make the contract process more competitive: gone. Streamlining the permit process to save time and money: gone.”
The House proposal also does not include the consumer protector provision proposed by the Senate. That exclusion should come as no surprise—after all, Jay Inslee, Democrats and their far-left supporters labeled the safeguard a “poison pill.” This exclusion did, however, indicate that House Democrats are not interested in placing our state’s transportation needs ahead of their partisan interests (i.e. millions in campaign contributions).
Indeed, the Democrats refusal to accept the reality of compromise has been the most frustrating aspect of the far-left’s vendetta against the Senate’s transportation reforms. Democrats have grown used getting their way in the legislature without compromise or a check on their power, and the current poor condition of transportation in our state is a testament to their control.
As Shift previously pointed out, the path forward is quite clear—if Democrats are willing to compromise. Lawmakers let the people—or their chosen representatives—decide on Democrats’ favored agenda items. A transportation package could be achieved if each side placed their trust in the citizens of this state. For Republicans, that means allowing Sound Transit to seek a $15 billion dollar tax increase via a ballot measure next year. For Democrats, that means accepting Republicans’ consumer protection provision that would oblige Inslee to bring his fuel mandate forward as legislation, not through an executive order—voters should not have to face an additional charge of $1 or more at the fuel pump.
Pressure on House Democrats to accept the bi-partisan transportation package is mounting. Check out what Keep Washington Rolling, statewide coalition of labor, business and environmental organizations and community leaders, is doing to help pass a b-partisan package here.