Rep. Mike Volz and Rep. Keith Goehner: Fiscal Responsibility and Meeting Transportation Needs Can Coexist

By Rep. Mike Volz

and Representative Keith Goehner

For the spokesperson’s review

The pandemic has harmed many aspects of our state. One thing that hasn’t suffered is Washington State revenue. Tax collections, from you the taxpayer, have remained strong despite all that our economy, our businesses and our families have had to endure.

Along with record revenues, government spending has nearly doubled over the past decade. Going into a short session, the governor proposed an extremely large supplementary operating budget. His plan would spend an additional $8.8 billion over the next four years, increasing spending by 19% over the 2019-21 operating budget.

Despite the massive increase in spending over the past decade, our state still has dire needs that go unmet, including our transportation system. We must meet current needs before spending more money on new programs, especially in transportation.

A recent Reason Foundation study ranked Washington State 42nd in the nation for highway performance and profitability. The study also confirmed that the state spends significantly more per road mile than most states.

Additionally, Washington State is unable to keep pace with road maintenance and preservation. Bridges are old and expensive to replace, many construction projects have been delayed, and railroads are outdated. Additionally, state ferries are operating at dramatically reduced service levels and are asking for hundreds of millions of dollars to be added to their $1 billion budget.

Our state’s operating and transportation spending plans are two different budgets. For decades, transportation-related activities have been paid for primarily by drivers through fees and gasoline taxes. With more fuel-efficient vehicles, electric cars and more people working from home, gas tax revenues are declining at an alarming rate.

It’s time for a new approach to funding transportation. Last session, we were successful in introducing an amendment to the transportation budget directing the Washington State Transportation Commission to consider additional revenue options for transportation that do not rely on increased driver’s fees or the gas tax increase. He had strong bipartisan support. Both sides of the aisle agreed that we needed to find other sources of revenue for transportation projects.

Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the wording, calling it an “unfunded study,” although the directive is consistent with the roles and responsibilities of the commission. The veto was disappointing as the policy was a proactive approach to having a deeper conversation about creating a resilient and sustainable transport budget for the future.

The majority party’s recent transportation proposals aren’t new — massive spending plans around gas tax hikes and numerous vehicle fees. At a time when our fellow citizens pay more for gas and suffer from inflation, why not study other options or propose a different approach?

To that end, Republicans in the State Legislature House of Representatives are sponsoring the Reprioritizing Existing Appropriations for Longevity (REAL) Act, House Bill 1603. The plan would create a sustainable and equitable transportation funding model, instead of continue to rely on a declining funding system. income.

The REAL Act moves away from the old, outdated way of thinking about transportation and budgeting. Our plan would be:

• Allow some transport programs to be paid for from the general fund (which has a huge surplus) from 2025.

• Direct sales tax paid by the state on motor vehicles to be used for the preservation and maintenance of the existing transportation system.

• Investigate a transfer of the Safe Routes to School program to OSPI with management to better coordinate funding for safe routes to new schools.

• Transfer sales tax paid on transportation projects to the transportation budget.

One of the basic tasks of the state government is to take care of its transportation infrastructure. We can do this while being fiscally responsible and efficient with taxpayers’ money. Our proposal puts us on the path to achieving this goal while being more efficient with taxpayers’ money. It’s time to get “REAL” about transportation in Washington.

Rep. Mike Volz, R-Spokane, is the Republican aide on the House Transportation Committee. Rep. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden, is the top Republican on the House Local Government Committee and sits on the House Transportation Committee.

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