New Tax Proposals to Address Washington’s Transportation Funding Gap

Washington State’s transportation infrastructure, previously described as on a “glidepath to failure,” is in the spotlight as an 18-member advisory panel proposes new taxes to fund necessary maintenance and repairs. The proposals were presented to the state Joint Transportation Committee (JTC) to address a decade-long funding shortfall.

Proposed Revenue Sources

The panel suggested several revenue streams, including:

  • A carbon pollution fee
  • A road usage charge
  • An electronic vehicle (EV) fuel economy rating
  • An air quality surcharge

These funds are intended not just for infrastructure upkeep but also for specific projects like replacing WSDOT fish culverts under a court injunction.

Legislative Focus and Funding Mechanisms

Former House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn, now co-chair of the advisory panel, emphasized the need to prioritize statewide transportation needs over individual district projects. She argued for reinvestment in existing infrastructure to avoid the higher costs of replacement, which could divert funds from other necessary projects.

The panel also discussed the constitutionally protected state gas tax, currently the primary funding source for state highway projects. Sherrie Hsu of BERK Consulting highlighted the challenges of relying on a mix of non-repeating funding sources for major projects.

Debates and Recommendations

The advisory panel recommended that new tax revenues be dedicated to transportation with full transparency on spending. Discussions also included potential state role adjustments in supporting transit, possibly by expanding local revenue authorities.

However, opinions varied on revising state transportation policy goals and whether new tax revenues should be as strictly protected as the state gas tax. Governor Jay Inslee’s proposed low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) has added to the debate, with concerns about its impact on fuel prices.

As Washington State looks to revitalize its transportation funding, the final recommendations from the advisory panel, expected by the end of the month, will guide legislative actions to secure a sustainable financial strategy for the state’s infrastructure needs.