Today marks the 37th day the Democrat-controlled state House has failed to take action on the bi-partisan transportation package passed by the state Senate back on March 3rd. The House’s continued failure to move on the transportation package should come as no surprise, given that top Democrat lawmakers signaled their intention to hold the transportation package hostage to their tax hike demands following the bill’s passage last month.
House Democrats appear to be heeding the warning of Democrat Sen. Bob Hasegawa who, upon the bill’s passage, expressed remorse that Democrats would lose leverage for raising taxes in the operating budget. Describing a hostage situation involving our state’s transportation needs, Hasegawa counseled fellow Democrats not to “let the transportation package go” because then they would “lose our leverage to get a good operating budget out as well.”
Unfortunately, watching the Democrats play partisan politics with the state’s transportation system is not a new development. Hasegawa’s comments echo those made by former Democrat state Sen. Tracey Eide during the last legislative session. Eide, then co-chair of the Transportation Committee admitted to preventing the Majority Coalition Caucus transportation bill from coming to a vote because she needed “leverage” for her own package, which involved raising taxes to fund new road, transit and pedestrian projects without any reforms to the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT). She publically announced, “I get a package, [then] we’ll hear reforms… It’s the only leverage I have.”
Democrat lawmakers have yet to understand that our state’s transportation needs are real and they are urgent. If they want to be taken seriously as responsible legislators, Democrats cannot continue to hold our state’s transportation needs hostage to their tax-raising demands. Democrats must accept the reality that any transportation package must be bi-partisan. Senate Republicans proved they are willing to make tough compromises in order to meet urgent transportation needs—their bi-partisan transportation package passed with the support of seven Democrats. House Democrats must do the same.
At stake is not just funding for key transportation projects, but essential reforms needed to eliminate waste and protect taxpayer money. One key reform would put the sales tax paid on transportation projects back into transportation, rather than siphoning it off 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, to evade a constitutional amendment (passed by Washington voters) that restricts fuel taxes to 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.
House Democrats cannot continue to ignore the fact that 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.
When will Frank Chopp and his House minions release this hostage?