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Olympia and transportation: Can we cut our way out of this?

As the Legislature talks about abandoning a new gas tax deal until the end of the year, WSDOT is preparing to cut back on road work and ferry operations.
Construction on the Highway 520 project (June 2012).

Construction on the Highway 520 project (June 2012). Washington State Department of Transportation/Flickr

If the Legislature decides to leave a transportation package until the end of the year, the state will have to cut road work and ferry operations. 

The chances are growing that the Washington Legislature might hold off until December to hash out a $10- to $12-billion transportation package for the next 10 years.

Washington Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson says her agency has "a Plan B," which involves lots of cuts in order to survive financially. The agency will have to implement if no package emerges by mid-March, according to Peterson. 

Another long delay in any transportation package emerged as a strong possibility on Monday, but it's not certain. The Republican senator leading his party's negotiations on transportation says he will try again Wednesday to reach agreement within the Majority Coalition Caucus on what his side wants in a final package. 

The Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus and the House and Senate Democrats have been haggling over a transportation package for at least nine months. A December scenario would extend the talks to 20 months .

"It's doubtful that there is the will to move in this session,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and lead transportation negotiator for the 24-Republican-two-Democrat majority coalition that controls the Senate. The Legislature has six weeks left in the current session in Olympia. The two sides are significantly far apart on their bargaining stances, making a quick resolution unlikely.

Publicly, the Democrats began with a $10 billion proposal, financed in part by a 10.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike. The current gas tax is 37.5 cents a gallon. House Republicans and the Senate majority coalition originally took a no-tax-hike stance. The majority coalition's last public figures were a gas tax hike of 11.5 cents a gallon to support a $12.3 billion, 10-year plan. However, Republicans also want to do some major budget shifts that would directly or indirectly take money from social programs — moves that the Democrats oppose. Also, the two sides are split on some Republican-proposed transportation reforms.

King has been trying to work out a new majority coalition package that he hopes both Democrats and the coalition can agree on. "I'm trying to find a balance that's responsive to both sides of the aisle, but not give away the farm for the (Majority Coalition Caucus,)" he said. 

On Monday, Democratic legislative leaders called the stalled transportation package a "jobs package," saying delays in passing it will stop potential increases in employment. "That's 7,000 jobs annually. ... That is truly an economic driver," said Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island.

Nelson wants the coalition to unveil a package that would be supported by more than a handful of the majority caucus' moderates. "I'd like for them to have at least 14 (out of 26 coalition members) votes for their package," she said.

In his remarks Monday, King said he hopes to present a new proposal to his own caucus on Wednesday to see if it has enough support to send to the Democratic negotiators. If no transportation legislation is passed by mid-March, King said, a December special session is the most likely plan. That's because both sides would prefer to avoid entering the November elections with their incumbent candidates having a recent gas tax increase on their records, he said.

If the transportation package talks go into 2015, King said, the Legislature will become distracted by wrangling over the 2015-27 state operating budget, plus dealing with the increased demands for money to fix schools as required by a Washington Supreme Court ruling.

In a recent interview, Peterson said, "we'll have to go to Plan B" if the current legislative session does not come up with a transportation package to pay for projects underway or on the drawing board.

Video from Seattle Top Story


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 5, 7:22 a.m. Inappropriate

King County Executive Dow Constantine and members of the King County Council decided not to wait for the Legislature to do something, and called for a public ballot to raise vehicle license fees from $20 to $60 and to raise that sales tax within the county by one-tenth of 1 percent.

The democrats have other funding options, they just WANT to raise regressive taxes for transit on the lower middle class households around here.

Let's look at how much sales tax already is imposed for buses and trains (along with car tab taxes and a property tax), and look at how much extra taxing the King County democrats are pushing with this new ballot proposition they want to float in April.

The amount of additional financial impact from the proposed tax hikes can be seen from the county's press release about them:

0.1% increase in sales tax, which would generate approximately $50 million per year (and expire after 10 years)

http://www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/Future.aspx

That's just the sales tax hike. There also would be a $60 per-vehicle annual hike.

About 70% of the sales tax is paid by individuals and families, and there are 800,000 households in King County:

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/53/53033.html

Those figures allow the average cost per household to be calculated; it is $43.75 per household per year just for the sales tax hike (the car tab tax on each car would be on top of that).

Now let's look at the existing regressive taxing for buses and trains here.

A 0.1% sales tax hike would cost the average family $43.75. However, the average family here already pays a 1.8% sales tax for buses and trains, plus a Sound Transit car tab tax, plus a property tax for Metro, plus in Seattle some of the “Briding the Gap” property tax hike revenues were handed over to the county for additional Metro service on certain routes in the city.

The existing sales tax hit for transit here already is $788 every year for the average family ($43.75 x 18). Most families have a couple of cars and some property, so add a couple of hundred dollars on top of that figure for the additional tab tax and transit property taxing each year. Lower income families with young children are targeted for the heaviest impacts (they have to buy kids clothing, furniture, health supplies, etc.). Call it an even $1,000 in taxes targeting the average family ALREADY for buses and trains.

By way of comparison, in the greater Portland area there is NO targeting of individuals and families via regressive taxing. Households there pay no sales taxes or car tab taxes for that extensive and expanding bus, train and streetcar system.

Now, who wants to argue that the democrats should be targeting households of very modest means for higher taxes for buses?

crossrip

Posted Wed, Feb 5, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

I sense that a large number of people who do service work that, for example, uses tools and equipment (repair, construction, cleaning, landscape services) really have no choice but to drive to their work. They need to have their tools and they frequently need to travel to more than one destination. To the extent that is true then the gas tax is indeed regressive and hurtful to an important function. The argument has been made that public transit caters to a higher income clientele; from my observation that is not true but I think there are a lot more low income drivers than is commonly acknowledged.

kieth

Posted Thu, Feb 6, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree with Kieth here. It's also true that the carpool lanes create extra time for single occupant vehicles, who quite often are the businesses, small and large, who are driving from job to job to work, make deliveries, pick up supplies, install cable, fix a broken window, etc.

No wonder the economic conditions of this country have been in crisis! There is too much money being spent on forcing people out of their cars, which is totally impractical for the majority of companies/individuals who require a single occupant vehicle for work reasons.

There should be a special carpool sticker made for vehicles that can prove they must drive alone for work, at no charge to the drivers.

Regressive comes in many stinky forms.

Posted Wed, Feb 5, 4:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip...How does Portland pay for mass transit? (This is a request for information, not a hostile or leading question.)

Posted Wed, Feb 5, 5:09 p.m. Inappropriate

http://trimet.org/about/funding.htm

crossrip

Posted Wed, Feb 5, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

You write: However, Republicans also want to do some major budget shifts that would directly or indirectly take money from social programs

Thanks for clearly displaying your bias. It would do no such thing, unless the leg decides that is what they want to do.

This proposal would only remove the "bonus free-money" that the leg has been getting. You can have your transportation, but we collect along with our local partners a 10% vigorish to pizz away on other stuff.

Rule #1, spin if you like, but be truthful about it.

Ah, yes, taking money from wimminz and children, two things that warm the cockles of my heart, whatever cockles are---NOT

Geezer

Posted Thu, Feb 6, 4:58 p.m. Inappropriate

I needed to be at the King County airport (Boeing field) at 10:20 am yesterday. I left Mukilteo at 7:45 am and didn't arrive until 11:05 am. There was so much traffic on I-5, I-405, I-90 and on and on. And no way to get to the King County airport using public transportation.

On the way home, I left Madison Park at 3:00 pm, drove through town to Northgate to gas up and arrived in Mukilteo at 5:30 pm. Really?!

I don't mind paying to maintain the roads, ferries or public transportation. I think these things are critical for our economy; but having a GOP Senate which won't fund these things, or teachers, and yet say they're working for "us," is absurd.

I shudder to think how much worse it can get between Tim Eyman and the GOP-controlled Senate.

Amaliada

Posted Thu, Feb 6, 5 p.m. Inappropriate

I needed to be at the King County airport (Boeing field) at 10:20 am yesterday. I left Mukilteo at 7:45 am and didn't arrive until 11:05 am. There was so much traffic on I-5, I-405, I-90 and on and on. And no way to get to the King County airport using public transportation.

On the way home, I left Madison Park at 3:00 pm, drove through town to Northgate to gas up and arrived in Mukilteo at 5:30 pm. Really?!

I don't mind paying to maintain the roads, ferries or public transportation. I think these things are critical for our economy; but having a Senate controlled by the GOP which won't fund these things, or teachers, and yet say they're working for "us," is absurd.

Think how much worse it can be if all of these modes of transportation have to be cut.

Amaliada

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