Democrats push transportation plan
February 17, 2022
A $16 billion plan, crafted mainly by Democrats, to fund hybrid-electric ferries, high speed rail and highway maintenance is gaining speed in the state Legislature.
“‘Move Ahead Washington’ is a promise to put Washingtonians first,” Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said. “It’s future-oriented while still dealing with the realities people face today. It reflects what people told us they wanted to see in this package.”
Transit programs get $3.1 billion, including $150 million set aside for high-speed rail. Another $3 billion would go toward highway preservation and maintenance.
Fey said the priorities of the package include preserving infrastructure, finishing existing projects and addressing climate change. $1.3 billion would be spent on the construction of four new hybrid electric ferries and electrifying two existing ships.
Lawmakers said the package would also provide funding to ensure those 18 and younger can ride for free on public transportation. $1.2 billion would be spent on programs promoting walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements and bike and pedestrian safety programs.
“Making buses, ferries and trains free for our kids will help create a multimodal future for our state,” Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, said.
A large part of the plan’s funding, $5.5 billion, would stem from a carbon pricing program signed into law last year under the Climate Commitment Act. The program, taking effect in 2023, requires the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, such as refineries, to purchase credits for emissions if they exceed a cap set by regulators.
President Biden’s Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would provide another $3.4 billion in revenue, with an additional $2 billion coming from the state operating budget.
“We are ensuring that we take resources we already have available, as well as some modest fees and other resources that don’t impact our struggling-working families and invest it to make life better for all of us,” Liias said.
About $2 billion would come from a new 6-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel exported to states with lower gas tax rates than Washington such as Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. Liias said other states with refineries, including Florida, Texas and Tennessee, have implemented similar taxes.
Republicans expressed frustration with the majority at a Feb. 7 press conference. The package left out the voice of the minority during the traditionally bipartisan process of transportation planning.
“It’s not the way we’ve seen transportation done in our state for decades,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said. “It’s always been a bipartisan process, for whatever reason the majorities have chosen to build an entire package by themselves.”
Democrats argued agreement within the party took precedence to ensure the package would survive the shortened legislative session, but suggestions from Republicans will be welcomed moving forward.