Guest: Transportation funding alternatives to the governor’s plan
Regardless of where you reside or your political leanings, it isn’t difficult to see the need for new investments in our state’s transportation infrastructure, writes guest columnist state Sen. Curtis King.
Special to The Times
WHEN Gov. Jay Inslee proposed his new state transportation package in mid-December, it was billed as an effort to spark discussion. While the proposal has certainly inspired conversation, those of us who have been knee-deep in transportation discussions during the last two years weren’t caught off guard by much of what was presented.
As anticipated, Inslee’s project list provides amply for King County and much less so around the rest of the state. Since April, I’ve looked at roads, overpasses, bridges and blueprints. I’ve compiled a comprehensive transportation project list with substantially more money for highway projects than Inslee’s proposal. Ninety-six percent of those projects get finished and are located throughout our state.
The governor’s plan to punish big polluters was no surprise either. However, it won’t be the gas and diesel industry that would pay. It would be the people in our state who own a gas- or diesel-powered vehicle who would foot the bill. Every person who needs to drive a car or truck to get to work would be punished because they are the “big, bad polluters.”
State residents should be wary of the costly and yet-to-be-viable-anywhere low-carbon fuel standards. There is clear evidence that our state’s carbon emissions are already declining. The governor’s insistence that we take drastic measures in light of these facts is puzzling.
Inslee has chosen to ignore the increased efficiency of vehicles. In 2013, Washington’s average mpg was 24.1. The number of miles traveled in this state is projected to be flat for the next 10 years and drop after that. Since vehicles account for more than 50 percent of carbon emissions, current projected increases in miles per gallon (more than 50 by 2025) mean a more than 25 percent reduction in carbon output. This, along with some additional solutions, give Washington its emission goals without jeopardizing the economy and livelihood of the people.
Inslee’s intention to require the Department of Transportation to convert the six Issaquah-class ferries to liquid natural gas did surprise me. This requirement has been in the transportation budgets since 2012. Private funds were dedicated for the conversion with minimal to no upfront cost to taxpayers (less than $15,000 per vessel) and payments that took advantage of the lower cost of liquid natural gas. Now instead of leveraging the private sector, the governor has proposed $145 million to make the same conversion.
I simply cannot support the governor’s insistence on untested, unfair and risky revenue sources: a cap-and-trade system, a carbon tax on so-called polluters and bonding the remaining unpledged 8 cents in gas-tax revenues — an approach even the state treasurer has called unsustainable. I am concerned that this approach would weaken the constitutional protections regarding the use of funds essentially derived from motor-vehicle fuel taxes.
The governor has challenged legislative transportation leaders to bring real solutions forward that would help meet our emissions limit.
So, governor, here are real solutions. Each approach would produce a direct and measurable reduction in carbon emissions without endangering our economy:
• Pursue common-sense reforms in conjunction with a balanced transportation revenue package.
• Create a tax incentive for employers to convert commercial truck and car fleets to alternative fuels.
• Create targets for converting the state ferry fleet to liquid natural gas.
• Find ways to promote and diversify low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear and hydropower.
Regardless of where you reside or your political leanings, it isn’t difficult to see the need for new investments in our state’s transportation infrastructure. We need a transportation revenue package and plan that incentivizes not penalizes. We need more than conversation starters. We need solutions that are fair and equitable for the entire state.
State Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.