Stark contrasts revealed in approach to state’s transportation needs 

Transportation policy leaders have been working to address Washington’s ailing infrastructure since the passage of the last major package, known as “Connecting Washington,” in 2015. Despite record increases in the state gas tax and other transportation-related fees and charges, the state’s transportation needs have remained woefully underfunded.

State. Sen. Phil Fortunato is continuing his 20-plus-year push for a reset on how transportation projects are funded altogether. This on the heels of a new, massive tax-increase plan, dubbed “Forward Washington” by the Democratically controlled Senate Transportation Committee. The funding proposal, largely crafted to appeal to Democrat legislators, not taxpayers, held a work session on the proposal.

“Everyone testified that they loved the project list without much mention of the tax package to fund it.” said Fortunato, R-Auburn.

“The Legislature has bought into this ‘Project List – Tax Package’ concept as a sales tool for tax increases to the public,” said Fortunato. “Twenty years ago, while on the House Transportation Committee as a 47th District state representative, I made the observation that in the future people are going to buy more fuel-efficient cars and electric cars, gas tax revenue will flatten out and the cost of right of way and construction will continue to rise with inflation. My solution was to take the then $512 million in sales tax from the sales of motor vehicles and put that into the gas tax account to provide an inflation-linked funding source. While the state sales tax rate has remained the same, 20 years later revenue is now more than $2 billion, keeping up with inflation.”

The package unveiled last Thursday includes projects throughout the state but relies on nearly $16 billion in new taxes, including unpopular proposals to tax carbon and another gas-tax hike, bringing the state’s portion to 55.4 cents per gallon.

“What is being discussed right now won’t ensure safe bridges or less congested roads. We are just putting an expensive Band-Aid when the state should be looking at creative ways that address the main cost-driver of transportation costs – inflation,” Fortunato said. “My proposal includes an inflation-linked funding source and would yield more money for transportation without raising taxes. Telling drivers they’ll have to pay almost a dollar in taxes per gallon at the pump to drive on the same roads is wrong. We must put the brakes on this Forward Washington tax plan and fund it with existing revenue. Every dollar we take from the taxpayer is one less dollar in our economy to create jobs and return sales tax to the General Fund.”

A nonpartisan estimate in 2019 showed that Fortunato’s “Fully Fund Transportation” methodology would result in nearly double the amount of money for projects in the same time frame being proposed now. In addition, Fortunato’s proposal would result in $54.4 billion in economic benefit to the state, while returning almost $4.6 billion is direct sales tax revenue back to the state by keeping more money in taxpayers’ wallets to spend.