Spokane Spokesman-Review: State needs a gas tax increase

The Spokesman-Review editorial board makes a compelling case for raising the gas tax now. (It’s a great editorial, though it does dredge up some unhappy Super Bowl memories to make a point.)

When legislators debated a gas-tax increase at this time last year, the statewide average price per gallon was $3.32, according to AAA. On Wednesday, it was $2.15 statewide and $1.76 in Spokane.

Not raising the gas tax this year is like failing to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch on the half-yard line.

But the state better hurry and huddle up, because Congress may be coalescing around a federal gas-tax increase of 12 cents per gallon to shore up the deficit in the U.S. Highway Trust Fund.

The Opportunity Washington research report expands on the need to invest in transportation this year.

In 2012, the Connecting Washington Task Force, a blue-ribbon commission of labor, government, and business leaders chaired by Gov. Chris Gregoire, reported that Washington’s population is expected to grow by 28 percent by 2022, annual vehicle miles traveled are expected to reach 60 billion by 2020, freight volumes are expected to triple by 2035, and central Puget Sound transit ridership is expected to grow 90 percent by 2040.

Accompanying these projected needs are funding challenges. Revenue from the fuel tax, the primary revenue source for transportation projects, cannot keep pace with demand due to increased vehicle fuel efficiency reducing the amount of fuel purchased in the state. Connecting Washington recommended a state investment of $21 billion over 10 years for preservation and new projects. (The full cost of meeting the state’s needs was estimated to total $50 billion.)

Lawmakers have not approved a significant new statewide transportation investment since those recommendations were released.

Legislative transportation leaders appear to be getting closer to reaching agreement . At AWB’s Legislative Summit:

Sen. [Curtis] King [Senate Transportation Committee Chair] said that before the Legislature moves ahead with a transportation package, cost-saving and accountability reforms must be put in place.

“As the talks move forward, we are getting closer on reforms we agree on and finding common ground on a few sticking points,” King said. “I give a lot of credit to the labor unions. We are moving forward together as a united front on this effort.”

The Spokesman-Review indicated that this year, creative revenue alternatives may be a problem.

…Gov. Jay Inslee has complicated matters by announcing a wholly new approach to infrastructure funding: a cap-and-trade carbon scheme that would produce uncertain results. Inslee wants to “tax polluters instead of commuters,” who, by the way, are also polluters. His plan would subject the state’s largest carbon emitters to this carbon levy without raising the gas tax.

However, the chairs of the House and Senate transportation committees are cool to the idea.

Inslee gets points for creativity, but dropping an idea of this magnitude into the middle of the debate is unhelpful. 

A lot of work has gone into documenting the need for investment and establishing funding priorities. The sooner lawmakers can reach agreement on how to pay for what must be paid for, the better off we will all be.