The state House is expected to decide the fate of the transportation package today. Yesterday evening, the state Senate passed the package by a 39-9 vote.
The transportation package is a result of compromise between the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. The $16 billion, 16-year transportation plan prioritizes widening or expanding highways. Spending highlights include:
- $1.6 billion for the finish of the Highway 520 replacement, from Lake Washington to Interstate 5.
- $879 million to finish a half-built freeway that is supposed to reach to I-90 (the North Spokane Corridor).
- $1.9 billion to build a 6-mile extension of Highway 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma and to extend Highway 509 from SeaTac to I-5. (the Puget Sound Gateway Project).
- $1.2 billion to widen the clogged corridor from Renton to Bellevue.
- $426 million to finish the six-lane corridor from Lake Keechelus to Easton to provide better safety, lane space and animal crossings (Interstate 90’s Snoqualmie Pass East project).
- $494 million for additional I-5 lanes and improved junctions in a chronically congested area near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
These projects are vital to building a supportable jobs future in Washington State. That’s why, at its core, the transportation package is a jobs bill. It promises to help our state enjoy and sustain economic growth by supporting the private economy. It puts skilled laborers to work all while building the foundation the private sector needs to grow and create new jobs. Commuters and businesses require reliable transportation improvements to move people and goods faster and more effectively.
The transportation package also includes important reforms that would change the way the state uses taxpayers’ hard earned tax dollars. One reform would direct the sales tax paid on transportation projects back into transportation, instead of 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 of charging sales tax on materials in transportation projects, the transportation package ensures gas tax dollars go toward their intended use. Democrats will no longer be able to divert money intended for transportation to their special interests agenda.
Eliminating the state sales tax on public road-construction projects would save approximately $1.5 billion to 1.8 billion more revenue from the state fuel tax for road projects. The reform would go along way toward preventing future transportation funding shortages.
Arguably the most important aspect of the transportation package is that it is the only method to hold back a fuel mandate. The package contains compromise measures, including a gas tax that is constitutionally dedicated to highway projects and an approval for Sound Transit to place ST3 on the ballot. But, it also contains an all important consumer protection provision. That means Jay Inslee will not be able to implement a fuel mandate—which experts predict will add a whopping $1 plus per gallon of gas—by executive order.
If Inslee attempted to implement a fuel mandate by executive order, all non-bondable revenues — which include fee-based money going toward transit and bike paths — would be moved into the main transportation account. Absent the consumer protection provision, Inslee would certainly move forward with his plan that would increase fuel prices by $1 plus per gallon—an increase that impacts everything from heating your home to the cost of groceries and the price you pay at the pump.
But, that’s not all. According to a study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), Inslee’s fuel mandate would cost Washington State more than 11,000 jobs over the next five years.
The simple fact is that without the transportation package, Inslee will be able to implement a fuel mandate. That means gas prices would increase at an unprecedented rate, but our state would never see the benefits of new highway projects. In fact, working families would be dealt an economic blow and our state’s economic growth would be stunted. Adding insult to injury, tax dollars would keep on being diverted away from much needed transportation improvements.
Republican Sen. Curtis King, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, warned that if a package isn’t passed this year, it will likely be two years before the Legislature takes up transportation funding again due to the fact that it will be harder to get lawmakers to vote on a gas tax. This is a conservative transportation package Republican lawmakers can get behind.
Commuters and businesses need transportation improvements. They’ve already waited too long for a transportation package. It’s time for the state Legislature to act.
Eastside Sanity says
Political Blackmail! That’s all this is. Time to just cut government & stop raising tax on us at every turn. Like this package is free for crying out loud. Time for a flat tax on all citizens in WA & quit destroying the lives of the middle class with this Liberal Nanny State policy the Democratic Party has created. Enough already!
Oh and Community Transit desperately needs that new taxing authority… I speak as a transit user.