When the transportation deal passed, the Republicans inserted a “poison pill,” which will redirect $700M in statewide multimodal money to highway funds if the governor enacts a low-carbon fuel standard. At the time, the Governor said he would accept the poison pills as part of the deal, and I think many of us assumed that that would be that: the low-carbon fuel standard was dead. As Jim Brunner reports in the Times today, the Governor is actively mulling taking the pill and enacting the fuel standard anyway:
[Sen. Doug] Ericksen, who voted against the gas-tax package, argues Inslee outplayed Republicans on the transportation deal.
He said Inslee used the threat of a clean-fuel rule — which he believes was a tenuous proposition that would have faced legal challenges — to win full Sound Transit authorization.
“He was able to use a weak hand and trade it for Sound Transit funding. That was the brilliant part,” Ericksen said.
Despite the poison-pill, Inslee’s office has signaled he is still considering moving ahead on a low-carbon fuel standard. While that would trigger a shift in transit money, Inslee and his allies could gamble on a fight to restore the funding in a subsequent legislative session.
The governor appears eager to show his environmental bona fides, and, having secured the full $15B authorization for ST3, feels that he can take a hit on pedestrian safety and mass transit projects. From what I’ve heard, the Governor is seriously considering moving forward. Climate activist Patrick Mazza echoes this sentiment on his blog, adding in the political calculus:
Inslee may calculate that the fuel standard will do more to reduce carbon emissions than the transit, van pool and bicycling alternatives that would be lost. A state government contact confirmed that staff is running numbers. And since this is only the first years of a transportation package that runs through 2031, the governor may also calculate that these losses could be reversed in future legislative sessions. The Democrats hope to re-capture the State Senate with presidential year turnout in 2016.
I’ve known Inslee for a number of years. Based on that my gut says he is preparing to pull the trigger to implement Clean Fuels.
Washington is the only West Coast holdout in a low-carbon agreement that includes California, Oregon, and BC. If enacted, multimodal (e.g. transit, bikes, pedestrian) money would be transferred to the state’s Connecting Washington account, per the terms of the deal, to be spent on roads.
So what would actually happen if Washington implements a low-carbon fuel standard? There are two funds which would lose revenue streams under the “poison pill”, both detailed in SB 5987. The poison pill would redirect funding from the multimodal transportation account and the highway safety account to the Connecting Washington Account, which is administered by WSDOT for highway work, if a low-carbon fuel standard is enacted before July 1, 2023.
Section 202 of SB 5987 would redirect revenue from the motor vehicle weight fee and motor home weight fee, amounting to ca. $62M per year, which currently goes to the multimodal transportation account. This is the only source of funds that would be redirected from multimodal transportation purposes. The multimodal account also gets funding from rental car sales tax amounting to ca. $29M per year, the motor vehicle retail sales and use tax amounting to ca. $40M per year, and vehicle certificate of ownership application fees amounting to ca. $10M per year.
Sections. 206, 207, and 209 would redirect fees for commercial learning permits, commercial drivers’ license skills tests, and non-citizen drivers’ licenses and ID cards from the highway safety fund, amounting to what appears to be a diversion of ca. $8M per year. Given that the only strictures on Connecting Washington Account funds are that they must be spent only upon appropriations by the legislature, they cannot be spent on the SR 99 viaduct replacement project, and they have to be spent on highway purposes, it is unclear whether any programs in the highway safety fund would be seriously impacted.
Importantly, ST3 isn’t touched by the poison pill. There were other hard-to-swallow trade-offs, of course, but no money under threat of being diverted to the Connecting Washington Account.
Thanks to Brent White for contributing to this post.