Chamber article from Rep. Dan Kristiansen: State needs reforms in transportation before asking you for more money
For the past three days, I've been immersed in public hearings, discussions and voting in extended House Transportation Committee meetings. For all the hours we've been spending in that committee, it boils down to one thing: money. Majority Democrats want billions of your hard-earned dollars (in addition to what you are already paying) to spend on transportation projects. Here's a quick look at their revenue package:
- A 10-cent a gallon increase in the state gas tax phased in over 10 years (two-cent increase every two years). We already pay 37.5 cents a gallon in state gas taxes. A 10-cent increase would make Washington the highest state gas tax in the nation. Cost to motorists: $2.5 billion;
- A motor vehicle excise tax of 0.7 percent on the vehicle's value – about $140 to get tabs for a $20,000 auto. Cost to motorists: $2.1 billion;
- A weight fee increase of 15 percent for large vehicles. Cost to owners: $102 million;
- A fee of $25 for each bicycle purchased that is valued over $500. Cost to bicyclists: $1 million;
- A hazardous substance tax increase of 0.3 percent. Cost to farmers and taxpayers: $897 million;
- Allowing local governments to add another $20 to the car tab tax (without asking taxpayer approval)
The total cost to citizens is more than $10 billion.
As one of the longest-serving members of this committee, I understand the challenges of our state transportation system, especially as gas tax revenues shrink because of cars with greater fuel efficiencies, and ever-increasing inflation taking a bite out of our buying power in construction. However, I have real concerns about how these enormous tax and fee increases would affect businesses, motorists and consumers.
Our state's economy is fragile. Unemployment remains high. In areas of our state with a high population of active members of the military and civilians who support them, there's a large amount of uncertainty related to the federal issue of sequestration. How can we ask these people for more money when their hours and paychecks might be cut?
Have you been to the gas station lately? It's nearly $4 a gallon and climbing. People are only buying what they can afford.
There's a larger issue, however, and that's the way the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is spending your money.
Why does it cost two-and-a-half times more to build a road, highway or bridge in Washington than in other states, such as Idaho and Oregon. Why are taxpayers getting stuck with the extra expenses of fixing leaky pontoons for the new 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington? Why does it cost twice as much to build a ferry in Washington than in other states with ferries, such as Massachusetts? How could WSDOT miscalculate where to build a freeway ramp on Highway 16, only to tear it down and start over?
Before we ask taxpayers for another dime, we need to get answers to these questions.
We also need to quit paying 30 years on bonds for projects that only create jobs for five or 10 years, and switch to 15-year bonding. We should eliminate the sales tax on construction projects. (That's right – we have gas tax money being siphoned from transportation into the state's general fund!) And let's require permit decisions within 90 days.
There's plenty of room for reform and efficiencies in our state transportation system. We need to fix it BEFORE we fund it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus and represents the 39th Legislative District. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600. Sign up for his e-mail update at houserepublicans.wa.gov/dan-kristiansen.