Reps. Barkis and McCaslin: Our state can have both $30 car tabs and sustainable transportation funding
As published in The Spokesman-Review
Washingtonians sent a strong message last November when they approved $30 car tabs through the initiative process. Despite nearly 53% of the vote statewide, a coalition formed quickly to file lawsuits and prevent Initiative 976 from being implemented.
This is unfortunate. It also illustrates how out of touch some in government are with the taxpayers who help pay their salaries and fund their projects.
First, let's dispel the false notion that people didn't know what they were voting for in I-976.
This is offensive. This issue has been around for years. Considerable resources were also spent on educating the public on this initiative.
Second, let's respect the will of the voters.
It's within the Legislature's control to pass legislation that mirrors I-976 and establishes $30 tabs. In fact, House Bill 2227 – sponsored by several House Republicans – would do just that. State lawmakers should pass this bill – or some version of it – this 60-day session.
Third, let's stop scaring people and communities with the chopping-block threat of cuts to projects and services. We're better than that.
It is true that I-976 could negatively impact some transportation funding. We want to keep promises that were made, including the North-South Freeway and other important local projects. We also don't want to see anyone who relies on public transportation for important needs have their options taken away.
We can keep these promises – as a state – if we are willing to put policy over politics and find bipartisan solutions for sustainable transportation funding. State lawmakers have proven they can reach across the political divide to do big things.
Another solution House Republicans have put on the table is House Bill 2323. This measure would dedicate the state sales tax on motor vehicles to transportation.
This would not be a new tax or financial burden on Washingtonians. Rather, it would simply take tax collections that were previously earmarked for the state general fund and move them into a new, permanent transportation preservation and maintenance account.
Yes, this would impact our state operating budget. However, the change would be phased in 10% over ten years.
With record-high tax collections, and state spending growing by 70% since 2013, budget writers can handle this adjustment over time. Let's also not forget our state had a $2.7 billion budget surplus last year and our rainy-day fund remains strong.
Simply put: Our state has enough money to pay for its priorities. And transportation is a priority.
Third, we cannot continue to neglect the preservation and maintenance of the infrastructure we have already built. Each year we allow the backlog of these projects to grow, making it much more difficult to catch back up.
House Bill 2285 would elevate road maintenance and preservation in transportation planning – where it belongs. It would not increase fees or taxes or allocate or change existing transportation dollars. The legislation received a public hearing last week. We will continue to push for it.
Finally, we need our governor to respect the will of the voters and be a part of the solutions. One area where the governor could really show leadership is working with his Washington State Department of Transportation to find and implement 10% targeted reductions in transportation spending – without impacting preservation, maintenance and special needs.
We challenge the governor and WSDOT to cut bureaucracy – not projects – and maximize tax dollars. No one knows where efficiencies and savings can be found better than the men and women of this state agency. They just need to be empowered to come forward with ideas.
While these are not the only transportation solutions and reforms House Republicans will put forward this legislative session, they do provide a roadmap to $30 car tabs and sustainable transportation funding. We are willing to work with anyone to move these – or other – polices forward.
Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee. Rep. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, is on the House Transportation Committee.