WA Research Council: State transportation revenues still below pre-pandemic projections

While the state operating budget is awash with cash, not so the transportation budget.

The Washington Research Council reports,

According to the Nov. 2021 transportation revenue forecast, state transportation revenues are still below their pre-pandemic forecast. Through 2023–25, the Nov. 2021 transportation forecast is $1.037 billion (4.9%) below the Feb. 2020 alternative forecast. (The Feb. 2020 alternative forecast excluded the impacts of I-976, which the state Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional in Oct. 2020.)

The transportation revenue forecast covers a 10-year period. Based on data from the Department of Transportation, from FY 2020 through FY 2031, the Nov. 2021 forecast is $1.211 billion (2.8%) lower than the Feb. 2020 alternative forecast.

This, of course, has negative implications for necessary transportation funding. The WRC writes that legislation has been filed that would backfill some transportation spending with operating funds.

Given the huge surplus in the operating budget and the fact that revenues in the transportation budget are still below pre-pandemic expectations, several bills have been pre-filed that would effectively shift funding from operating to transportation purposes:

  • HB 1602/SB 5488 would transfer $772.0 million from the general fund–state (GFS) to various transportation accounts in order to pay off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
  • HB 1603 would (beginning in 2025–27) shift funding responsibility to the GFS for fish passage barrier removal, ADA upgrades to transportation facilities, new buildings where state transportation employees work, mobility and public transit grants and programs, clean fuel programs, electric car tax incentives, safe routes to schools, bicycle and pedestrian pathways, intercity passenger rail service, freight rail assistance, and stormwater facility upgrades and maintenance.
  • HB 1604 would shift the revenue from sales taxes collected on the sale of motor vehicles from the GFS to a new transportation preservation and maintenance account beginning July 1, 2022. (The fiscal note for a similar bill in 2020 estimated that the sales tax collections on vehicle sales would be about $1.175 billion in FY 2021.)
  • HB 1607 would fund the safe routes to school program from the GFS beginning July 1, 2025. (The transportation budget includes $36.7 million for the program in 2021–23 and $19.2 million is expected in each biennium thereafter.)
  • HB 1249, which was introduced last year but not acted on, would transfer sales taxes paid by the Department of Transportation from the GFS to the motor vehicle fund and the multimodal transportation account. The fiscal note estimated this would reduce GFS revenues by $1.1 million in 2021–23.

Something to watch. Also, click through to the WRC post to see several informative graphs on transportation finances.