Yesterday Governor Inslee released the transportation plan that he will ask the legislature to pass next session.
The twelve-year program would spend a total of $12.1 billion on the following:
- $2.6 billion for “Maintenance, Operations, and Preservation,” most notably bringing all bridges and highways to “95% fair or better” condition. Almost half goes to the ferry system or the State Patrol.
- $2.2 billion for “Clean Transportation and Multimodal,” including about $802m in various transit grants, $150m in bike and pedestrian grants, and lots of money for electric vehicle incentives and various water quality initiatives like culverts.
- $5.9 billion in “New Construction,” over 99% of which will go to new highway capacity in places like SR520, I-405, SR509, SR167, and US 395 in Spokane.
- $1.4 billion is miscellaneous “local distributions” and, mostly, debt service.
But that isn’t the interesting part. There is no gas tax in this proposal, replacing it instead with a “carbon pollution fee” among myriad smaller revenue sources. Avoiding gas taxes also avoids the putative constitutional restrictions on gas taxes, opening the door for more direct state spending on transit.
Unfortunately, the budget passes up that opportunity by proposing transit funding levels not out of line with historical levels. Despite the lack of funding, there is significant new revenue authorization for transit. Most importantly, the Inslee plan fulfills the Sound Transit Board’s request for more authority, clearing the path for Sound Transit 3 via some combination of property tax, sales tax, and MVET. There is also a renewal of Metro’s expired “Congestion Reduction Charge” ($20 license fee) authority, but only through 2018. Community Transit would get much-needed additional permanent sales tax authority, and the license fee that Transportation Benefit Districts can implement without a public vote would increase from $20 to $40.
How an environmental and transit advocate feels about this program probably depends on their relative assessment of the damage of new highway capacity vs. the merits of the transit authority and the directly pollution-attacking revenue source. Personally, I think this is miles ahead of the totally unacceptable House Democratic package from last year, which didn’t have ST3 and spent much more on new highways without fully funding maintenance.
My immediate reaction is that this would be a decent compromise to come out of the sausage machine next session. Unfortunately, it may be the opening bid, positioned as the “left wing” proposal with negligible state funding of transit, a persistent emphasis on more highways, and no permanent solution for Metro. The document seems to recognize this, labeling itself as a “good-faith compromise to spark action.” We can only hope that a majority of legislators view it in the same light.