State Sen. Curtis King writes in the Seattle Times that
We need a new, fair way to fund highway projects. Regardless of I-976’s fate, Washington needs a better way to fund highway projects. The state Department of Transportation reports the state gas tax isn’t producing as much revenue as expected due to more fuel-efficient or electric cars on our roads.
King is the ranking Republican on the Senate Transportation Committee. His short op-ed offers a good preview of the transportation debate we can expect in the coming months. We’ve previously written of the way passage of I-976, which slashed transportation projects, has thrown transportation planning and funding into an uncertain future. Further tossed into the legislative mix is the recommendation of the state transportation commission that lawmakers move to a pay-per-mile tax.
Taking note of these events and others, King writes,
Some of my Senate colleagues are offering a sensible long-term solution for Washington’s transportation needs — shifting the state sales-tax revenue from vehicle purchases into the state transportation budget over several biennium instead of continuing to put it in the state operating budget. The operating budget has seen huge increases in revenues, up 17% this biennium alone. It’s logical, given the relationship between vehicles and transportation infrastructure, and would allow lawmakers to maintain and increase transportation investments without adding a tax. That sounds like an approach the voters would appreciate.
Given the likelihood of an economic slowdown and the possibility of a 2020 recession, there will no doubt be concerns raised about any diversion of tax revenues from the general fund. It’s a discussion we expect to follow closely. However that gets resolved, though, King’s core observation is apt: We need a new, fair way to fund highway projects.