WA House, Senate Democrats release $16 billion transportation package
House and Senate Democrats in Washington state on Tuesday unveiled a $16 billion, 16-year transportation revenue package that spends on a variety of projects ranging from building new hybrid electric ferries and funding more walking and biking corridors to highway maintenance and replacing fish passage culverts.
Unlike previous packages that have included gas tax increases, this plan gets a bulk of its funding — $5.4 billion — from a carbon pricing program signed into law last year that requires the state's largest emitters, like refineries, to purchase credits for allowed emissions if they exceed a cap set by regulators.
“The investments in this package will help everyone, but particularly don’t pass on the costs to working families,” said Democratic Sen. Marko Liias, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "We’ve heard loud and clear that working families are still facing the brunt of an economic burden caused by the pandemic. That’s why there is no gas tax in this package.”
Other revenue sources include $3.4 billion from the the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Joe Biden signed in November, $2 billion from the state operating budget, and $2 billion from a new 6-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel exported to states with a lower gas tax rate than Washington, like Oregon, Alaska and Idaho.
About $3.1 billion would be spent on transit programs, $3 billion would go toward highway preservation and maintenance and $2.6 billion would fulfill the state's court-ordered obligation to replace fish passage culverts.
Another $1.3 billion would be spent on building four new hybrid electric ferries and electrifying two existing ships, and $1.2 billion would be spent on programs like those that promote walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements and bike and pedestrian safety programs. Funding would also be provided to ensure that those age 18 and younger can ride for free on public transportation.
“We’ve worked hard over the last two years to listen to communities all across Washington, and they told us that their top priorities included preserving our infrastructure, finishing projects we’ve started, taking action against climate change, expanding multimodal options, and addressing the harm of past transportation policies,” Democratic Rep. Jake Fey, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said in a written statement.
Republicans, who are the minority party in both chambers, have expressed frustration that they haven't had more input in what has normally been a bipartisan process in the past.
“It's not the way we've seen transportation done in our state for decades,” Republican Sen. John Braun said earlier this week. “For whatever reason, the majorities have chosen to build an entire package by themselves hoping that because we have been broadly supportive of transportation packages, we would just come along without really truly being involved. That's pretty disappointing.”
Democrats have argued that in a short 60-day legislative session, they needed to have agreement among themselves in order to ensure a package could move this year, and said that there have been conversations with Republicans and that elements of the plan reflect those talks.
Liias said that Democrats and Republicans were “deeply in disagreement” over the carbon pricing program, so “when it came to allocating those resources we weren’t starting from the same place.”
But he said he’s open to suggestions from Republicans moving forward.
“If you look in this package you’ll see investments in every corner of Washington and priorities that are important to Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
Sen. Curtis King, the lead Republican on the Senate Transportation Committee, said while there are areas of the budget he agrees with, including the money toward the culverts, one of his concerns center around the increase in fees on things like enhanced driver’s licenses, which people will ultimately need to fly under the REAL ID Act if they don’t have a passport or other qualifying identification.
The cost for a new enhanced license or ID — currently $78 for a six-year license — will increase to $96. And the cost for a license plate for a new car will increase from $10 to $50.
“That’s a substantial increase to everyone that buys a car,” he said.
The session is scheduled to end March 10.