Washington State Legislature approves nearly $17 billion transportation package

The Washington State Legislature gave final approval Thursday to a transportation package that  invests $16.9 billion over 16 years in major projects throughout the state.  

Move Ahead Washington was sponsored by 21st District Sen. Marko Liias and 27th District Rep. Jake Fey, the respective chairs of the Senate and House transportation committees. 

“We said when this package was announced that it was a first draft, and now we’ve passed a package that incorporates the feedback we’ve received over the last month,” Liias said in a news release announcing the measure’s passage. “We’re investing in projects from rural to urban areas across our state, letting kids ride free on our buses, ferries and trains, and so much more — and all without punting the cost to working families.” 

The revenue package adopted a shift in funding sources after an export fuel tax projected to provide $2 billion in funding was removed on the House floor. To make up most of that shortfall, $57 million a year from the operating budget and $57 million a year from the Public Works Assistance Account will be transferred to transportation to provide an additional $1.7 billion over 16 years.  

According to the news release, the package presents a turning point in transportation policy for Washington, with historic investments in climate mitigation, preservation and maintenance, public transportation and pedestrian safety.  

“I’m eager for residents across the state to have more efficient and safer commutes – no matter how they’re travelling,” said Liias, whose 21st District represents portions of Edmonds and Lynnwood.

Notable investments include: 

  • $5.4 billion toward carbon reduction and multimodal expansion. 
  • $3 billion for maintenance and preservation.  
  • $3 billion for public transportation.  
  • Free fares for passengers 18 and younger on all public transportation. 
  • $2.4 billion to fund fish passage barrier removals.  
  • $1.3 billion in active transportation, including Safe Routes to School and school-based bike programs. 
  • $1 billion to fund Washington’s portion of an I-5 replacement bridge across the Columbia River.  
  • $836 million to build four new hybrid-electric ferries. 
  • $150 million towards ultra-high-speed rail. 
  • $50 million for walking and biking infrastructure in underinvested communities.  

Full revenue and project lists can be found here. Passage of Move Ahead Washington marks the first time since 2015 that a transportation package has passed the Legislature. 

Having been passed by both chambers of the Legislature, the bills now go to the governor to be signed into law. 

  1. Please tell me who pays for the vast majority of this senator Liias? If not the working class in Washington state? Hard to imagine a more out of touch senator than one who thinks working class citizens aren’t the primary taxpayers in this state. He must truly be living in fantasy land.

  2. Liias said we’re doing this “all without punting the cost to working families,” but a cursory look at the resources to fund this include:
    – License Plate Fees
    – original car plate increases from $10 to $50
    – replacement car plate from $10 to $30
    – original motorcycle plate from $4 to $20
    – replacement motorcycle plate from $4 to $12.
    – Dealer Temporary Permit (guess who actually pays this?) – $15 to $40
    – Enhanced Driver’s License & Identicard – $24 fee to $42 for 6 year license, $32 fee to $56 for 8 year license
    – Driver Abstract Fee – $13 fee to $15
    – Driver’s License Update Fee – $10 to $20

    No working family pays any of these fees, right?

    1. Jim,

      You’re focusing on the car tab fees which are fairly modest increases per year, compared to insurance costs and gasoline. The transportation bill is meant to help those families and their children who will save a lot of money utilizing public transit rather than cars to get places. It is also meant to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, and provide options (Safe Routes to School and school-based bike programs for example) and reduce the focus on driving cars everywhere.

      This is a good bill. Well done, Marko Liias!

      1. Joan
        Who says families and children want to utilize public transit? More likely is they will be forced to use it because the cost of owning and operating a personal vehicle will be unaffordable because of government taxation. As for the carbon footprint argument aren’t we already planning to phase out gas powered cars by 2035 or something? In general I am not against this bill except that with everything government does there is a lot of waste and pork included. My general problem is that the truth is. Working people are the ones that are going to be the primary source of revenue to fund this so the statement to the contrary is a blatant lie from Mr Liias.

        1. Jim,

          Thanks for your thoughtful comment. My millennial children used public transit when they were teenagers. We were a one car family, and transit was a beneficial resource to us. I am certain there are middle income families in similar circumstances today.

          The cost of owning a vehicle is represented not only in the vehicle tab fees. It is in the cost of the car itself, insurance, maintenance, gasoline, as well as infrastructure costs (freeways and roads) and policing the roads. And in the enormous cost of motor vehicle accidents. The medical, emotional and financial costs related to deaths, injuries and disablement can not be given justice in this comment. Our car centric culture is highly subsidized.

          Electric vehicles will reduce the carbon footprint of gas use, but increase the carbon footprint of mining minerals to make the batteries. They’re still cars, contributing to the cost of our car centric lifestyles.

          I support funds allocated towards public transit, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and micro-mobility. If you are concerned about the cost to working people of middle income, would you then support an income tax in WA? Sales taxes and property taxes only go so far.

      2. I must not have been very clear when I wrote that last night, but my focus is NOT on the specific taxes and fees (which are not limited to car tabs) in the bill. My point is the advertisement that working families are not going to pay for it is disingenuous.

      3. Joan
        I am not against public transportation there Is certainly a need and as time goes on probably a greater need. I often see giant buses rolling around empty or with just a few people in them so a great tax cost to provide service to the few, some routes are heavily used so those do justify their expense. Yes gas and oil are heavily subsidized but so are our green energies again not against green energy but they aren’t cheap. I like my car centric lifestyle it offers great convenience and freedom and no matter how much transit we have we are not designed to be a society without a lot of private transportation. Do buses and trains not have accidents? Hopefully with autonomous vehicles the roads will be much safer in the future. I do support a more fair taxation I don’t know if that requires a income tax but that may be one way to do it if it reduces other taxes so it is not just a extra tax. The question becomes how much transit is beneficial no point in building out a system that goes largely unused and burdening private transportation users unnecessarily. Or for that matter all taxpayers. Thanks for the good discussion.

        1. Jim Fairchild,

          To answer your question “Do buses and trains not have accidents?”- all forms of getting around have accidents, including walking. There are way too many pedestrian/vehicle accidents. Statistics would very likely bear out that automobiles are involved in a higher percentage of accidents and resulting injuries and deaths than buses and trains.

          You are not alone in enjoying your car centric lifestyle. It’s no wonder public transportation is a contentious issue, with many seeing it as no more than a tax burden. You said “we are not designed to be a society without a lot of private transportation.” I agree that is currently the case. However, investment in public transportation will take us in a better, and ultimately less expensive, direction.

          Both Jims (Fairchild and Shelton),

          I think we can all agree that there is a lot of “pork” in government spending and that politicians are often “disingenuous”. However, I wonder if either of you would venture to think about John Brock’s question:

          “What mechanism would you use to fund these much needed improvements and programs as an alternative?”

          Enjoying this discussion. Thanks!

    1. True – many politicians do. My problem is announcing that this is paid for without passing cost to “working families,” when in fact it does. I have seen this and similar quotes about this bill in more than one area newspaper and most readers will accept it as truth. I think he knows that.

  3. What mechanism would you use to fund these much needed improvements and programs as an alternative?

  4. After many years of no progress on a transportation package, I appreciate the leadership of Senator Liias and his colleagues in getting this across the finish line.

    1. $17B after spending a ridiculous $54B on the trains that won’t be completed till 2045?!?! This is not progress. This is taxing families to death.

      1. Nick, I agree with you. 17B, plus the sound transit so called 54B to build a light rail system that will be outdated by the time it’s finished. Oh, I forgot the billions that are over budget and what 20 years behind schedule. Sound transit will keep going to the well for more money from us to finish this debacle. Sadly the voters will keep giving them are hard earned money.

  5. Ms Bloom raises and interesting question, what might be the alternative ways to raise $16b over 16 yrs to fund the package. Some data. Package is $1b per yr, with 7m people in WA that would be about $150/yr per person. Family of 4 is $600/yr. Family of 2 is $300/yr.

    The political process is used for more than just raising money. Create incentives, (buy electric cars) and income re-distribution, (childcare credits, food stamps, housing vouchers and others), and providing a market based allocation system, (pricing based on supply and demand like hamburger is cheaper/pound than steak and for the vegens, mushrooms are cheaper than truffles). In this case the legislature had some interesting idea on how to raise $150/person/yr. First was to charge other states, that did not work. Second was to make the system user based, like a gas tax. But then how we get the electric guys to pay? Here are some issues that were part of the discussion.

    Here are a couple of user based systems:
    Gas tax, “rich people buy electric cars, or have cars that get better mpg as compare with poor people”
    Miles driven fee, Eastern WA folks and less populated areas drive more? than city folks?
    Ds and Rs have issues with both of these systems but the Ds were in charge. What were the R’s suggesting?

    Some want gas to go away but taxing it to reduce its use does little for the income transfer folks, and as gas does go away so will the amount of taxes collected. Miles driven approach is “big brother” and impacts rural folks need to drive to work, run errands, and take the kids to soccer.

    So the legislature…Ds, just needed the $ so property taxes were basically used. That’s were we get money for the General Fund. So a family of 2 in Edmonds with a $2m home will pay more for this package than a family 4 living in a rural home with a value of $200k. In this case they pay 10 times more for those GF dollars. Reached word limit.

    1. Darrol
      I think your last paragraph, using property taxes to fund transit, buses and rail is the best way to fund these programs. Higher property values happen to be the areas where most of the transit expansion is going to take place and also where it is most used. On that note we should reduce funding from car tabs, gas, licences etc.. and raise property taxes to pay for all this transit expansion.

    2. On another note this would also shift the cost more on the rich because they have the higher property values.

      1. Jim, there are other sources of revenue for the general fund. Property tax looks to be about 17% while sales tax it 37%. I do not know the breakdown of who pays the most sales or property tax but both taxes may hit the “rich” more than the others, but that is only a guess. What the D’s wanted to do was tax the super rich with a tax on capital gains, but the lower court has already ruled the same way the the 1935 Wash Supreme Court ruled that to tax income it should be a uniform rate for all just like we do the property tax.

        I have seen reliable studies that show the lower 25% pay 16% of their income to taxes while the top 25% pay 1% of their income to taxes. That same study showed that by taxing income at a uniform rate (that would be legal) by 10% would eliminate the need to have a sales tax and a property tax. Yes a 10% uniform income tax could eliminate all sales and property taxes.

        I am of the opinion that we should create a flat rate income tax at say 5%, and reduce sales and property taxes when we can see how various income groups are impacted by sales and property taxes. That could be done on a revenue netural basis or even follow the method outlined in I747 that limited the increase of that tax without a super majority or a vote of the people. Such a plan Would shift taxes to the rich while reducing the tax burden on lower income people.

        When we decide to allocate money to project like transportation we should engage the people with informed discussion and create plans that are supported by most. The transportation plan has a lot of good things and both D’s and R’s agreed upon the plan. Where the legislature went sideways was in deciding how to pay for it. In reality it wasn’t the how but the who part of the discussion. Again out of words.

        1. Darrol
          That is interesting I would have thought property tax was a greater percentage. I would support a 10% flat tax and getting rid of property and sales. I would be against just adding like you suggested a 5% and lowering the others. In my opinion this would just make government larger by having to hire a whole separate division bigger government is not your friend. The 10% income tax would allow us to eliminate 2 collection programs, a savings for the people or at least a reduction of government bureaucracy. As it is government seems to continue to raise taxes not just let’s say for inflation but for nonsense that increases their size and provides little additional benefit. Hence the concern over increased transit funding. Thanks for the feedback.

  6. Jim, thanks for the feedback. Before adding or eliminating or adjusting any tax model it would be important to sort out the various taxes on various groups. Who pays what amounts? It would also be important to try to balance the amount of total tax revenues in a growing economy and a declining economy. Sorting out how we share the revenues collected between levels of govt takes some more analysis. Lots of questions to be sorted but it may well be time to do just that.

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