Second Legislative District state Reps. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, and Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, are backing a plan to implement the $30 vehicle tabs approved by voters while establishing a new funding source for transportation that doesn’t rely on any new taxes, according to a press release from the House Republicans.
The plan, the lawmakers say, would also cut back on bureaucracy at the Washington State Department of Transportation.
“Washingtonians have spoken on car tabs and it's the job of the Legislature and governor to respond,” said Barkis, who serves as the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee. “We need to put policy over politics. This means implementing 30-dollar car tabs, establishing a permanent account for preservation and maintenance, and setting priorities at WSDOT. We have put solutions on the table that would respect the will of the voters and meet future transportation needs.”
The lawmakers noted that 53 percent of the state’s voters supported Initiative-976 in November before the measure was stalled by lawsuits.
House Bill 2227, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Young, would limit state and local taxes, fees and other charges while establishing the $30 vehicle registration fee.
“Regardless of what some elected officials might think, we are not chosen to be kings. We are elected as public servants. It's our job to listen and then work hard to find solutions,” said Young, R-Gig Harbor. “The voters have clearly spoken on this issue, and the Legislature should honor the will of the people.”
Those backing the plan acknowledged that I-976 would create a shortfall for transportation funding, noting that the impact statement for the initiative declared it would reduce revenue by $478 million.
House Bill 2323, sponsored by Rep. Drew MacEwen, would phase in a shift of state sales tax on motor vehicles to pay for cash-based preservation and maintenance projects in increments of 10 percent for 10 years, a move he says would generate $117.5 million for transportation next year.
“Vehicle sales-tax revenue has a direct nexus to transportation and would not be a new tax burden on Washingtonians,” added MacEwen, R-Union. “If we implement this reform over time, our operating budget could absorb the change and we would address the preservation and maintenance needs of our transportation system for years to come.”
House Bill 2285, sponsored by Rep. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, would also make preservation and maintenance a priority for transportation goals by taking care of the existing system rather than funding new services.
“Washington House Republicans also believe more should be expected from Gov. Inslee and his WSDOT in adjusting to I-976 fiscal realities,” House Republicans wrote in the press release. “They believe the agency should be able to cut bureaucracy – not projects – to maximize existing tax dollars. Implementing 10 percent targeted reductions in transportation spending — without impacting preservation, maintenance and special needs — could result in $269.7 million in savings.”
Rep. Jim Walsh noted that Gov. Jay Inslee must become part of the solution and characterized his contributions as a problem. Last year, following the 2019 legislative session, Walsh noted that Inslee unilaterally increased transportation spending for fish-barrier removal by $100 million.
“Governor Inslee should join us in developing state transportation solutions that are truly progressive – that is, innovative and forward-looking. The old, stale tactic of threatening good projects with the chopping block isn't necessary,” said Walsh, R-Aberdeen. “We can – and must – do better. We've got the plan. We just need our colleagues, including the governor, to put the people's voice ahead of partisan agendas.”
House Bill 2194, sponsored by Walsh, would restrict executive discretion in adjusting transportation budgets.