Dear Friends and Neighbors:
Two weeks ago, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Connecting Washington transportation bill, which is a 16-year, $16 billion transportation plan to provide new highway and bridge projects, a new 144-car ferry and terminals, transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects, rail improvements and fish passage barrier replacements.
The bulk of these projects will be paid for by an 11.9 cents a gallon gas-tax hike approved earlier this month by the Legislature. The first part of that gas-tax increase is seven cents a gallon, which will take effect this Saturday, Aug. 1. The remaining 4.9 cent increase will take effect July 2016.
In addition to raising gas taxes, the transportation revenue package, Senate Bill 5987, will also increase passenger vehicle weight fees by as much as $35 next year and an additional $10 in 2022. Weight fees on trucks over 10,000 pounds will increase by 15 percent.
Not an easy decision
Moving forward on this immense transportation plan and the increase in taxes was a difficult decision for many in the Legislature, especially Republicans. We know there are an increasing amount of maintenance and infrastructure needs across our state and in our communities and that a new transportation plan would help many communities and our economy.
On the other hand, we've also been very frustrated with a series of problems within the governor's Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), including an on-ramp built in the wrong place, poorly-designed ferries, faulty pontoons for the SR 520 bridge project, projects promised that were never built, and of course, the enormous issues involving the Bertha Tunnel project in downtown Seattle. As I've said before, we need to fix those problems BEFORE we fund it. So that's why we've insisted on significant and meaningful reforms.
I voted 'no'
On July 1 at 12:30 a.m., Senate Bill 5987, came up for a vote in the House. The measure passed 54-44. I voted "no."
- It's the largest gas-tax increase in state history and brings Washington up as the second highest gas tax in the nation, just behind Pennsylvania. Many struggling families and employers cannot pay more at the pump.
- It's light on reforms. Business as usual with the governor's WSDOT will not ensure taxpayers get the most for their gas tax dollars. WSDOT does not have a good record for getting projects finished on time and within budget. Taxpayers deserve more accountability!
- It does very little to help our district. I'm particularly disappointed that State Route 2, the deadliest highway in Washington, is still not receiving the attention it deserves to ensure safety. Only $15 million is earmarked for SR 2 for unspecified safety projects.
- Rural drivers in our district will be paying disproportionately more in gas taxes, just because they have to drive farther than those in urban areas like Seattle. Yet, Seattle and other urban areas will be getting more benefits from this transportation package than the 39th District.
- There is roughly $1 billion for transit, bike and pedestrian projects, which will provide much less relief for traffic congestion than if that money would have been directed toward expanded highway capacity.
- Bonds for these projects will take up to 40 years to pay off. That means drivers who are now 25 years old will be turning retirement age before these projects are paid off.
- The bill contains an emergency clause, which prevents voters from taking this to the ballot for a referendum. I supported an effort to remove the emergency clause and add a referendum provision in the bill so you could vote on the final package in November. However, majority Democrats defeated that amendment.
The silver linings within the cloud
While I'm very concerned about this plan for the reasons stated above, I do want to mention some positive aspects:
- The Legislature passed Republican-sponsored measures that will make it easier to replace structurally-deficient bridges, reform how ferries are built, streamline transportation corridor projects' permits, and encourage WSDOT to use design build on all projects over $2 million.
- We also made congestion relief part of our state transportation goals.
- In exchange for the transportation project package, Gov. Inslee agreed to set aside his effort to pursue a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) until 2023. The governor's LCFS proposal was estimated to potentially raise the cost of gasoline by at least another dollar per gallon.
Ensuring your tax dollars are used wisely, on time and within budget
Although I opposed the bill and the bonding measure needed to pay for the projects, that legislation is now law. So I will be working to make sure projects promised within this package are delivered on time and within budget, and I will be supporting further reforms to hold WSDOT accountable with your tax dollars to ensure they are used wisely.
I hope this update has been helpful in providing information to you about the new gas- tax increase and why I opposed it. If you have questions, comments or suggestions about the materials in this e-mail update, or any other items relating to legislation and state government, please reach out to my office. You will find my contact information below.
In your service,
39th Legislative District
(360) 786-7967 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000