Prospects Dimming for Washington State Transportation Revenue Proposal

A Washington state gas tax increase proposal is on life support. Image: I-5 in Seattle, flickr user Maximiliano Monterrubio

A Washington state gas tax increase proposal is on life support. Image: I-5 in Seattle, flickr user Maximiliano Monterrubio

Washington state transportation stakeholders are adjusting their hope for a transportation investment bill. After several possible (but unlikely) deadlines were missed, stakeholders now look to December for the Legislature to pass a bill.

Governor Jay Inslee had asked for a bill to pass by November 29, after previously calling for a bill to pass earlier in November, and earlier during the Spring legislative session. The more optimistic stakeholders thought there was a slight chance the Legislature would act when it met last week. Realists knew the Senate and House were still far apart on at least a couple of key issues such as the amount of transit funding and some labor issues.

Senate and House Transportation Committee leaders, from both parties, continue to talk regularly and negotiate. They say all the right things: they’re committed to reaching a deal, they’re continuing to negotiate. And according to a variety of sources, the negotiations are earnest.

But they’re still far apart on those key issues. The Republican-dominated Majority Caucus Coalition (MCC) wants stormwater expenses paid from an environmental account instead of transportation funds. Many Democratic Members and the environmental community strongly oppose that.

The MCC also wants to eliminate the sales tax on construction materials; revenues from the tax go to the general fund for non-transportation purposes. Eliminating the tax could save around $670 million which could instead be invested in projects. Precluding those funds from going to the general fund for education and other programs causes heartburn for a number of members.

Additionally, many transit stakeholders were less than enthusiastic with the House’s funding for transit, and they are practically hostile to the Senate’s proposal. And don’t even get the bike-ped stakeholders started. Senate Transportation Co-Chair Republican Curtis King stated this week that bike-ped and complete streets programs are not a state responsibility.

Depending on how negotiations play out, many in the environmental, bike-ped, transit and labor communities may prefer no bill, if the Senate were to prevail on many of its positions. Meanwhile, those in the business and economic development communities continue to push for a bill.

And time is running out. In their most recent interview, the Senate Transportation Co-Chairs Republican Curtis King and Democrat Tracey Eide all but said if a deal isn’t done in December it will get punted to 2015. Next year is election year and there is likely to be great skittishness about voting to increase the gas tax by 10 or 11 cents (over ten years).

When you ask lobbyists about the prospects for a bill passing in December or early 2014, the answers are all over the board.  If we had to bet, we’d put money on a bill slipping to 2015.  But we’ll be thrilled to be wrong. 

The Olympian is more optimistic: Senate plan bodes well for transportation package