Legislation that is terrible for most of Washington is motoring through the state Legislature as the end of the 2022 session draws near.
It’s the so-called “Move Ahead Washington” transportation proposal pushed by our state’s Democratic legislators, nearly all of whom serve legislative districts in the Puget Sound area. Wouldn’t you know, the Puget Sound area just happens to be where most of the $16.8 billion in their very partisan package would go!
This is one of the most outrageous things I’ve seen in 12 years as a legislator — particularly as someone who helped assemble the Connecting Washington transportation package in 2015. That received tremendous bipartisan support because it had a true “one Washington” approach. The Democrats’ new approach is the total opposite.
A Republican senator from Northwest Washington says the Democrats’ scheme would be more correctly called “left behind.” He’s right. The people in his corner of the state, and our corner, and east of the Cascades would pay, and pay, then get left behind when it comes to getting transportation projects in return for their dollars.
It’s easy to think of $350 million worth of transportation needs just for the part of Clark County I serve. Expand the Camas Slough bridge, complete the SR 502/503 project in Battle Ground, a new I-5 onramp at Ridgefield, and more. There is zero in the Democrats’ proposal for any of that, or similar needs elsewhere in the county, because Democrats chose not to involve Republicans in developing their package.
The lone project for Clark County is, in its way, also the most problematic: replacing the Interstate Bridge over the Columbia. The Democrats are promising $1 billion for the bridge replacement, without knowing if that’s enough.
The creators of this package claimed it didn’t include a gas-tax increase. Then what was that new 6-cent tax they wanted for each gallon of fuel being exported from Washington’s five refineries? Did they not realize some of the gas sold to Oregon and Idaho distributors comes back to stations on our side of the border, which means the new tax would be passed along to us at the pump? Or did they simply not care, because it wouldn’t hit their Puget Sound constituents?
The new gas tax was dropped after protests and threats from Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. Maybe that will encourage Oregon legislators to trust Washington again when it comes to replacing the Interstate Bridge, a project our state doesn’t fully control. We’ll see.
Rest assured, the Democrats already had lots of other ways to reach directly into your pocket. Under their proposal, for instance, license plates for cars and motorcycles will cost 500% more. The stolen-vehicle check required when first registering a car from another state is going up 300%. The fees for enhanced driver’s licenses and state ID cards would soar. How about a potential increase in the sales tax in transportation benefit districts, of which Clark County has several? And in place of the foolish fuel export tax, they’ll raid the fund that helps counties and cities pay less for public-works projects. Way to go, Democrats!
These added taxes and fees are “regressive” because they don’t hit everyone the same, meaning people with less money will pay a greater percentage of their incomes. But don’t expect Democrats to admit that. It’s hypocritical to claim to be a “progressive” and rail against balancing budgets on the backs of people with lower incomes, then turn around and jack up a bunch of regressive fees that land harder on the very people you claim to care about.
The taxes and fees and other funding for the Democrats’ scheme are in Senate Bill 5974; the spending is in Senate Bill 5975. Changes were made to both by the House of Representatives this week, so the bills haven’t gone to the governor’s desk quite yet, but believe me, they will. The Democrats can’t be sure they’ll have full control of Olympia in 2023, so they’re going for the wish list while they have the votes.
Republicans know our state has transportation needs that aren’t being met. We realize some people may be frustrated to the point of caring less about how transportation improvements are funded, as long as they happen. But here’s the reality: Republicans have proposed a genuinely “progressive” approach to transportation funding that could support $23 billion worth of investments without raising a single tax or fee.
Do you suppose the Democrats care?
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, serves Washington’s 18th Legislative District.