Democratic lawmakers propose massive gas tax increase to fund transportation
As Washington families struggle with the pandemic-induced recession and job losses due to stay-at-home orders, Washington House Democrats have proposed a series of major tax increases to fund transportation projects.
House Transportation Committee Chair Jake Fey (D-27) unveiled a bold $26 billion, 16-year transportation package on Tuesday that would be funded by an 18-cent per gallon gas tax increase. The first 10-cent hike would come this year, with an 8-cent increase the following year. There would also be a gas tax increase tied to inflation to follow. Diesel prices would also increase.
House Democrats would fund the package with a new tax of $15 per metric ton of carbon emissions, which would increase to $20, and then $25 in 2025.
“Our proposal is much more substantial than any in state history because the needs and challenges are so much bigger,” Rep. Fey said in a video press conference. “These include long overdue investments, help for frontline communities, and carbon reduction to fight climate change.”
Fey said he and other members of the committee held 90 listening sessions with constituents to help craft this plan.
More than half of the money raised would go to maintenance and preservation. Washington Department of Transportation head Roger Millar told a group earlier this month that the agency only spends $550 million a year on maintenance and preservation, a figure he said is about half of what’s necessary.
More than $3 billion would go toward fish passage restoration, which the state is under a federal court order to do.
According to WSDOT, Washington state currently has the fourth-highest gas tax in the country at 49.4 cents a gallon, last raised in 2016. If approved, this 18-cent a gallon increase would give Washington the highest gas tax in the nation.
When asked by a reporter if it was a good idea to raise taxes during a recession, especially a tax that would hurt lower-income families, Rep. Fey replied: “We are facing, because of COVID, revenue reductions, so in some respects if we don’t do this, we’re going to be in the position of cutting projects.”
Fey added that there is never a good time to raise taxes.
The Senate Democrats are expected to release their transportation project soon. It’s expected to be similar to the package floated the last few sessions, and is a smaller package that also relies on a gas tax increase and some carbon-related taxes.
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