17 Feb Jon Cartu Reviews: Paying for Washington’s transportation system involves some
Rep. Jake Fey is a Tacoma Democrat representing the 27th Legislative District.
Washington State Legislative Sup
Our state is growing quickly, with one million people moving here because of the booming economy. That means we need to invest more — not less — in highways, trains, ferries, light rail and buses.
Because you can’t add by subtraction.
This may seem like simple math. Yet in the debate over transportation funding, there’s a lot of confusing rhetoric and misinformation.
Here are four key facts:
1) It’s not a zero-sum game. Mass transit doesn’t have to lose in order for highways to win, or vice versa. Adding more buses or train service, for example, speeds up traffic by removing cars from the highway.
Every part of our transportation network needs to be healthy and work together to get people to their destinations.
2) Gas taxes can’t fund everything. Many people read in the 2019 voter’s guide that the state has billions in the rainy day fund which could be used to fill any revenue shortfall caused by Initiative 976 on car tabs. This is incorrect. We can’t tap the rainy day fund for transportation.
Article 7, Section 12 of the Washington Constitution sets up our state’s rainy day fund, which is to be used for operating budget shortfalls. That fund can only be used under specific circumstances, such as a state of emergency after a catastrophic event, or through a super-majority vote.
How we fund transportation is as important as how much. The gas tax has been the primary method, though the constitution requires that gas tax revenue be spent on highways. That means it can’t be used to fund mass transit, Amtrak, special needs transportation and other services.
We also can’t fix the revenue hole created by I-976 by taking money from the state operating budget, which funds other needs such as public schools and universities.
Additionally, switching to Kelly Blue Book values for car tabs isn’t legally possible. But there are other ways to determine a fair value for cars that the House and Senate should consider.
3) More people means more needs. When the population goes up, so do the transportation needs of the people we represent.
Those needs are many, including a replacement for the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River, $3 billion to comply with a court decision on fish and culverts, and more.
Solving this challenge will not be quick or easy. It will take a thoughtful approach that considers all options.
That’s what our Joint Transportation Committee will be studying this year. I look forward to having a bipartisan process where we listen to each other and determine what the people of Washington need for transportation — and how to pay for it.
4) We have to work together. Passing the bonds that fund our state transportation budget requires a super-majority vote (60 percent). Changing an initiative like I-976 requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate in the first two years after its passage.
That means lawmakers from both parties must cooperate on transportation. There’s no such thing as a…