We’ve written many a time on the misguided fluff coming from Michael Ennis, Washington Policy Center’s (WPC) Transportation Director, both for his abrasive attitude toward transit and unwavering support for automobile dominance. Despite repeated rebuttals, however, it seems like WPC’s ideology continually creeps into its legislative advocacy regarding transportation, sometimes even in contrast to to the think-tank’s free-market platform.
Lacking public support for a gas tax increase may spell trouble for policymakers who want a transportation package in 2012 during a presidential election year. Given the current economic climate and combined with the Governor’s new statewide sales tax proposal for general government (probably with a vote in April), a transportation tax package in November now seems less likely.
Ennis knows that any increase in the gas tax is tied down by a lot of political baggage so it’s pretty convenient for him to cherry-pick this one single finding to argue against any kind of transportation package. What he ignores is the broad support for more other funding options (PDF) and user-based charges, like the vehicle emissions fee, electric vehicle license fee, and variable tolling.
It really depends on what comes out of the upcoming legislative session, but it’s premature to suggest that touching the gas tax is the only option up for consideration. While a tax increase and/or elimination of the sales tax exemption has been a point of support on this blog, we’ve still been receptive to other viable options, highlighted in the work (PDF) done by the Connecting WA Task Force. More below the jump.
As far WPC’s three recommendations for a transportation package go, the principles don’t depart significantly from traditional pro-highway talking points:
- Taxes and fees paid by drivers should not be used to subsidize other modes.
The issue with applying this kind of tax policy to transportation is that it assumes modes are separate and mutually exclusive, when in fact they’re very much interrelated– buses use highway lanes to get around, drivers benefit from roadway capacity freed by trips taken on other modes, pedestrians benefit from sidewalks built into road projects, and so on. In fact, many people, transit riders in particular, are multi-modal travelers that benefit from improvements to any and all modes.
- State taxes should not fund local transit agencies.
The survey results indicate that many Washingtonians think otherwise, especially given the availability of State support to transit through the MVET once upon a time. What’s interesting is that when it comes to roads, State taxes do go to fund local projects, which is especially true in the Puget Sound area. It’s clear that Ennis isn’t really arguing about the scale of tax equity, but the mode, where there is a clear vendetta against transit.
- Use current transportation revenues more effectively and stop diversion to non-highway purposes.
The only State revenue sources that are constitutionally protected against “diversion to non-highway purposes” are those that go into the motor vehicle fund (i.e., gas tax, vehicle registration fees). Though bound by legislative action, other sources don’t fall under the same constitutional restrictions because of what WPC fails to recognize– that transportation modes are mutually interactive, whether highway or non-highway.
Ennis’ recommendations are more of a hit piece against transit than anything that suggests tax equity. What he doesn’t acknowledge is that the State transportation system is made up of a lot more than roads, bridges, and cars, and is discretely tied in with local and regional networks where the importance of alternatives modes are more apparent. It’s worth repeating that the principle definition of transportation is the mode-neutral movement and conveyance not of cars, but of people/goods.
If the Legislature can look beyond rhetoric being touted by groups like the WPC in the next session, then we have that much of a better chance of aggressively lobbying for a vested State interest in transit.