Editor’s Note: The following is in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed 2021-2023 transportation budget.
We continue to face uncertain financial times under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the past nine months, we have heard the governor tout that he has Washingtonians best interests at heart as he makes decisions solely on his own. His recent rollout of his 2021-23 transportation budget proposal shows that he continues to be out-of-touch with what the people of Washington state can financially afford right now.
Throughout this budget, the governor proposes new spending to further his climate change agenda including the electrification of ferries, bike and pedestrian programs, and ultra-high-speed rail. However, public transit isn't expanding right now due to COVID. Ridership is decreasing, ferries are operating at reduced levels, and the use of our rail system is down more than 90 percent.
The people of Washington state are paying 11.9 cents more in gas taxes and increased licensing fees in expectation of completion for transportation projects negotiated in 2015. Yet, the governor wants to delay these projects, so he has an already-allocated pot of money to tap into to fund his own climate agenda. This is unacceptable.
The governor has also asked state workers to take furlough days every month, and to not receive any pay increases. Yet, his current proposal seeks to spend $10.8 billion.
The governor has also made the choice to direct $726 million to remove fish barriers while delaying promised system improvements and pay to workers. This is the type of budgeting that frustrates people when they ask how their hard-earned money is going to be spent.
His transportation budget proposal is unrealistic.
House Republicans believe our priorities heading into the 2021 legislative session should be: addressing the COVID-19 related shortfalls; finishing projects we've already funded and started, not delaying these projects any further; and preservation and maintenance. This can be accomplished by working within our means, not by proposing new or higher taxes.
We continue to offer solutions to reallocate existing revenue to help pay for increased repairs, maintenance and preservation for current transportation infrastructure. We can do this by reallocating funds currently found in the operating budget on automobile sales tax and shifting that revenue to the transportation budget. Our solutions will not impose new burdens, or higher taxes, on the already-struggling economy and our taxpayers.
The transportation budget negotiation process is unique in that it is a truly bipartisan conversation. I, along with my assistant ranking members, work closely with the chair and vice chairs of the House Transportation Committee to write a bipartisan budget that benefits all of Washington state. The governor's proposal will create a difficult environment to achieve bipartisan resolution, but I will continue to fight to ensure our voices are not only at the table - but heard.
State Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, represents the 2nd Legislative District. He is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee.