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Inslee revives push for gas tax and transportation projects

The guv wants to resurrect the transportation package that Senate majority leaders killed in June.
Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee John Stang

King County Executive Dow Constantine.

King County Executive Dow Constantine. John Stang

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to call a special session in November to pass a multi-billion-dollar transportation package -- a move that failed early this summer.

But Inslee is looking to push roughly the same package that a 25-vote majority in the Washington Senate did not want anything to do with in June. The governor appears to be hoping that at least one of the suburban moderates in the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus will cross the aisle to join 24 minority Democrats in getting a package passed late this year.

This is not a slam dunk by any means. The majority coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats was extremely disciplined during the six months of the 2013 session. The small group of moderates in that coalition always stuck with the predominantly conservative alliance to oppose bills that those same moderates supposedly supported: For example, making immigrant high school graduates eligible for state college aid and making abortion insurance coverage mandatory. The strongest political bonds among coalition members are fiscal – they like lean budgets and hate new taxes.

Inslee, the Senate Democrats and the Democrat-controlled House failed to even budge this 25-member voting bloc on any issue. The majority coalition's main objection was the House's 2013 transportation package, which called for a 10.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike. The coalition is skittish about passing a gas tax hike just prior to the 2014 elections. It is also leaning toward passing transportation reforms in 2014 and saving any gas tax increase for 2015 or 2016. 

At a Tuesday press conference with King County Executive Dow Constantine, Inslee said the package he hopes to be considered in a possible November special session would be similar to the one that failed in June, and would include a yet-to-be-determined gas tax hike. About the only significant difference between the failed House package and Inslee's current plans is Columbia River bridge between Vancouver and Portland. His new proposal would likely not include replacing the span. That project is either dead or on life support, because critical federal funds evaporated when Washington lawmakers failed to approve the state’s $450 million share of the $3.5 billion project.

"I'm an optimistic on the subject (of a transportation package),” said Inslee. “When the will is there, we can get things done." As a can-do example, Inslee pointed to the collapsed Skagit River bridge which the state repaired in 27 days. But that fix-it project cost only $15 million, and the feds provided most of the cash.

Dow Constantine said a November or December session would not work unless Republicans and Democrats had a rough agreement going into it, If not, he said, "we'll have the same old game playing."

Inslee and Constantine are hoping that pressure on the majority coalition from businesses and voters eager for highway and bridge improvements will sway members. "Since the legislators came home from the Senate, they have caught both barrels from the business community," Inslee said.

Business interests including the normally tax-adverse Association of Washington Business backed the Democratic transportation package, including the increased gas taxes, during the last session because it would have added construction jobs along with other economic benefits.

Constantine and Inslee pointed to highway and bridge construction work needed in King County and the fact that four moderate members of the coalition are from King County: Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, Joe Fain, R-Auburn, Andy Hill, R-Redmond, and Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island. Another moderate, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, represents Pierce County which has a stalled extension of State Route 167 in the Democratic proposal. Two much-more conservative coalition members are also from Pierce County: Sens. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, and Steve O'Ban of rural Pierce County. The remaining coalition members represent significantly conservative parts of the state.

Inslee hopes the public feedback from the upcoming series of bipartisan public transportation discussions across the state will convince Republicans to back off their no-new-taxes stance enough to put together a November transportation revenue package. The stakes are high for bridges, roads and transit.  


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Sep 3, 5:57 p.m. Inappropriate

They want more transit, raise transit fares. Simple as that. No legislative approval needed whatsoever. Just raise the fares.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Sep 3, 6:06 p.m. Inappropriate

"At least 70 stretches of roadway in King County at risk. "

http://www.kingcounty.gov/exec/PSB/Budget/2013-2014/2013_budgets_biennial_funds.aspx

The King County budget for 2013-14 includes about $189 million for roads, and $1.627 BILLION for public transit. So King County budgeted over EIGHT TIMES as much money for public transit as for roads. This is true, even though transit carries only a tiny percentage of all trips in King County, and almost all King County transit requires roads to operate -- buses NEED roads!

The problem, obviously, is not that there is not enough tax revenue to keep county roads maintained. The problem is that the vast majority of King County transportation revenue is wasted subsidizing transit freeloaders. King County has plenty of tax revenue to maintains its roads and bridges -- it is just wasting most of it on massive tax subsidies for transit riders.

The solution is to make transit riders pay for their own transportation, as motorists do, and use tax revenue for the roads, instead of for massive tax subsidies for transit users.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Sep 3, 8:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Who wants to try arguing here that King County needs to impose more general taxes for buses?

Crosscut is a fairly public forum. Who wants to step up on the stump and advocate for giving the King County Council more taxing authority for its bus system? I'll take the "that isn't needed" side of the argument.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Sep 4, 2:01 a.m. Inappropriate

King County Metro will be forced to cut 17 percent of its bus services next year, including some in the suburbs, if a transportation revenue package does not include legislation to allow King County to levy for extra, Metro-targeted taxes.

Bullshit. Pierce County's transit system was going to collapse when their voters defeated a higher tax, and they found the money. Pierce County's transit officials were lying, and so are King County's. And Crosscut is their stenographer. So this is what happens when journalism dies, then?

NotFan

Posted Wed, Sep 4, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

What I want to know is where in the world is all the money we're already paying going? I suspect Lincoln is correct and that it is going to subsidize transit. But is that all of it? I know the executive and managerial types are being extremely well paid because God forbid they should leave and allow someone else to pay them better. But that isn't all of it? Where is it? I'd like to see the actual ledgers. Maybe I should do a PRA request. But then I suspect I'd have to wade through mountains of obfuscation and still not understand where is the money we've already paid?

The effect of this constant demand from government for more and more in taxes, levies, fees, whatever other names they have for it, is that I don't trust a word they say and I won't vote for another penny for anything until I am satisfied that I understand where our money is going. So I guess that means I'll never vote for any financial package again.

mspat

Posted Thu, Sep 5, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, let's look at the facts. Only half of the collected state gas tax gets distributed to counties and cities. The rest stays with WSDOT to deal with state roads. On top of that the gas tax only covers about 33% of the cost of road and bridge maintenace/construction. Nothing to do with transit.

http://taxfoundation.org/article/gasoline-taxes-and-tolls-pay-only-third-state-local-road-spending

The state voters have declined to increase other sources of revenue and so appear to want an increase in user fees - such as the gas tax. So, ok then. Stop whinning.

Treker

Posted Thu, Sep 5, 1:56 p.m. Inappropriate

In WA state, taxes, fees and tolls on motor vehicles generates more tax revenue than is spent on all roads in our state. That "study" you refer to is an utter load of crap. As just one example, it counts highway bond revenue as "subsidies", even though in WA state, highway bonds are completely paid off with gas taxes and toll revenue.

Here is the WA state transportation budget, for starters:

http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/76EA6C26-F318-4637-BB5E-3E031B230761/0/201315WSDOTBudgetReqExecSumm.pdf

No non-motor vehicle-related revenues in the WSDOT budget.

And a lot of tax revenue from motor vehicles IS wasted subsidizing transit: there is an MVET that goes to Sound Transit, and a license fee that goes to KC Metro. Plus hundreds of millions of dollars per year is spent by WSDOT on rail and ferries and other transit. Not to mention that about 20% of all sales tax revenues at all levels is from sales taxes on new and used motor vehicles. Plus, there is sales tax on all motor vehicle parts, maintenance, repairs, etc.

So, your premise is utterly wrong.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Sep 5, 5:48 p.m. Inappropriate

That is all hot air. You provide absolutely no proof. See the previous links posted that show the facts. Stop lying

Treker

Posted Fri, Sep 6, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Like I said:

This means that all gas tax money must be spent on roads, although there is some flex to whether this applies to certain transit programs. At the very least, all of the money must be used for transportation purposes, and certainly the vast majority of transportation dollars are spent on roadways. In this biennium, for example, the WSDOT's budget is $7 billion, four billion of which is devoted "highway improvements," with another $750 million for "highway preservation." (Less than 10% goes to rail and transit.) Over this two year period, the gas tax barely covers half the cost of highway construction and repair. Worse, this is true despite the fact that we fall further behind on road maintenance every year.

Also look here - slide 7 - that shows the model for how the gas tax is allocated. The presentation shows how the gas tax divided. City/county distribution, bond payment, state highway and ferry system. And cities/counties have very little wiggle room on apply any of this to transit. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/D4126734-0748-4AF7-853A-2ADDF700223C/0/MovingWAtoACEC6111_FINAL.pdf

Transit is seperate - funded by local or regional taxing authorities, fare box receipts, and whatever federal funds they can scrap for.

And those gas tax receipts only pay about a thrid of the cost of road construction, infrastructure repair, and maitenance. The rest comes from the general fund.

And from a historical perspective the gas tax in WA is low: http://www.ctj.org/taxjusticedigest/archive/2013/06/washington_state_gas_tax_plan.php

Treker

Posted Mon, Sep 9, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

To the state outside of Seattle area: If you don't want higher taxes on yourselves, please just let us tax ourselves (in King country) to spend the money on ourselves the way we want. We won't pay for the new bridge across the Columbia without that.

Just let us have the chance to tax ourselves to build new roads, trains, buses, etc. We are okay with spending some of our tax revenue on the rest of the state, because we are all in this together.

However: absent that, please feel free to split off into a new state. The people in island county have noticed how important their ferry transportation is, they'd probably go with us. Those of you gnashing your teeth about the horrors of taxes, go and enjoy your paradise without us evil tax raising, job creating liberals in Seattle.

Posted Mon, Sep 9, 2:13 p.m. Inappropriate

TechWorker, you're not making much sense.

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