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Feb
2015
19

Gas Tax? Or Just Gas? WA GOP’s Transportation Plans Could Undermine Workers, Wages, Environment

NPI says the deal leaves out vital Columbia River Crossing funding.

NPI says the deal leaves out vital Columbia River Crossing funding.


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In the state of Washington, a deal brokered by Republican Sen. Curtis King would raise the gas tax by eleven cents over three years while increasing fees and bond sales to raise $15 billion for the state’s transportation system.  But not everyone is convinced that the deal will actually work, as it may not actually fund needed projects.

The Northwest Progressive Institute has been closely monitoring the transportation deal and noted flaws in its language that might do more harm to the Democratic party than help the people of Washington with improved transportation options.  NPI argues that the proposed transportation bill is not viable and is, in fact, “a trap.”

In a recent post the group laid out the following flaws with the proposal:

• It would shift money currently going to education to highways. Senate Republicans are again proposing that sales taxes collected on transportation projects go into the state’s highway fund, instead of to the general fund. This would significantly worsen our education funding shortfall (which everyone seems to agree is the state’s most pressing problem). House Democrats have previously gone on record saying it’s a bad idea, and we’re adamantly opposed to it.
• It doesn’t put any money towards a new Columbia River Crossing. The bridge that carries Interstate 5 over the Columbia River to Oregon is decades old and in need of replacement. Washington and Oregon’s department of transportation came up with a plan to replace the bridge (and, questionably, all of the interchanges near the bridge), but that fell apart thanks to Senate Republicans, who scuttled the project to prevent TriMet from bringing light rail across the river.
• It would hinder Jay Inslee from tackling pollution by inserting a poison pill for transit funding. Senate Republicans have included language that would redirect state funding vanpools, rural transit, special-needs grants, and pedestrian/bicyclist safety measures to highways in the event that Governor Jay Inslee pursues stronger fuel standards for vehicles to fight pollution. This stupid and shortsighted language is a nonstarter.
• It leaves Sound Transit short of what it needs for ST3. Sound Transit is asking the Legislature for new revenue authority so it can place a Sound Transit 3 package before voters in urban King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties in 2016. The Senate Republican plan gives Sound Transit some of the authority it is seeking, but not all of it, which would hamper the agency’s efforts to put the best possible plan before voters.
• It weakens our prevailing wage and worker protection laws. Washington has long had rules requiring that people who work on public works projects be fairly compensated. They must be paid what is known as a prevailing wage, defined by Labor & Industries as “the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid in the largest city in each county, to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics.” Senate Republicans want to change the rules to make fewer workers eligible to receive a prevailing wage.

King’s County Executive Dow Constantine, who also serves as the Chair of Sound Transit, says he can not support the current deal:

“We are still reviewing details of the Senate proposal, but at first glance it appears to have many of the important elements we’ve sought from the Legislature: Preservation and maintenance funding for our deteriorating roads and highways, increased local options for cities and counties, and multi-modal investment.

In particular, I am pleased to see the necessary funding authority that will allow people in the Central Puget Sound region to seek future expansion of light rail, although not in the amounts that are needed to meet the mobility needs of one of the fastest-growing areas of the nation.

At the same time, unfortunately, some parts of this proposal appear fundamentally inconsistent with our values of protecting the environment and upholding the rights of labor. These components are neither needed nor helpful in keeping our region moving, and I cannot support them.”

NPI provides a great deal of information on this subject, including some fascinating details about the link between road building and traffic.

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