This Washington

Governor Proposes $3.6 Billion Transportation Package, Including New Fee on Oil

By Erica C. Barnett January 10, 2012

This post has been updated with comments from representatives for the Downtown Seattle Association, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Cascade Bicycle Club, Futurewise, and the Transportation Choices Coalition. 

Josh is down in Olympia right now, where Gov. Chris Gregoire just delivered her last-ever state of the state speech, in which she outlined a "major transportation and jobs package" that includes a $1.50-per-barrel fee on oil and local taxing and fee-setting options for cities and counties to raise money for roads and transit without going to a public vote. Unlike taxes, which require supermajority (two-thirds) approval, the oil fee would require only a simple majority vote of the legislature.

Gregoire's package would raise $3.6 billion for state highway and ferry system maintenance over ten years---a fraction of the $20 billion package proposed by the Connecting Washington Task Force, a state-appointed group set up to suggest transportation funding options, late last year. The money would come from a $1.50-a-barrel fee on oil produced in Washington State; a $100 fee on electric vehicles; a 15-percent increase in license fees for heavy commercial vehicles; a $15 weight fee on passenger vehicles;

"We can’t wait until roads, bridges and ferries are falling apart to fix them. We can’t kick the can down the road and saddle our future generations with the repairs we failed to make," Gregoire said. "Our transportation system is the lifeblood of our economy. It moves people to work and goods to market, and supports our tourism industry. If we don’t maintain and grow, we come to a standstill."

Gregoire cited a number of specific road projects that need to be built or repaired, including the Columbia River Crossing, the controversial Spokane North-South Freeway, and a new ferry for cars. The state, Gregoire said, faces a $1.6 billion shortfall over the next ten years just to maintain state highways, plus another $1.3 billion to maintain the state ferry system.

Gregoire said her proposal will "get money to our cities and counties to fill potholes, repair roads, update bridges and keep buses running" and give local jurisdictions "the option to raise additional money for maintenance and transit."

Specifically, the proposal includes:

• $2.67 billion for highway operations and maintenance;

• $310 million in grant funding for cities and counties to maintain roads and bridges;

• $150 million in grant funding to offset transit service cuts;

• $200 million for the Washington State Patrol; and

• $100 million to preserve Amtrak service.

Gregoire did not propose any specific statewide ballot measure for this year. However, she did propose giving city and county councils the authority to raise new revenues on their own (without going to a public vote), either by passing a motor-vehicle excise tax of up to 1 percent, or by passing a vehicle-license fee of up to $40.

King County, whose $20 fee, which helped the agency avoid 17 percent service cuts, expires next year.

In a statement, Downtown Seattle Association vice president Jon Scholes said DSA believes “a transit component is critical to a statewide transportation package. Transit is what voters want to see and it’s what many urban centers like Downtown Seattle need to remain economically competitive.  We can’t afford to put ourselves back in the situation of facing deep cuts to bus service in two years if we want to increase jobs and economic prosperity."

Blake Trask, policy director for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, added: "The [operations and maintenance money] is great, ut we're hoping it can be improved to include some of those active transportation options." Currently, he said, "This package does not include anything for safe routes to school, anything for bike and pedestrian safety and mobility, anything for active transportation, period."

Transportation Choices Coalition and FutureWise, two environmental groups that advocate for balanced transportation funding, praised Gregoire's proposal for focusing on operations and maintenance and for asking oil companies to "pay their fair share." But they criticized the package for being "overwhelmingly weighted towards serving automobiles and [failing to] provide any funding for bi-partisan supported safety programs such as Safe Routes to Schools or the newly created Complete Streets grant program."

Similarly, Cascade Bicycle Club expressed concern that Gregoire's proposal focuses exclusively on "repairing the crumbling relics of the past," in executive director Chuck Ayers' words, instead of investing in bike, pedestrian, and transit projects that reduce congestion and decrease car dependency.
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