Republicans threaten to walk away from Columbia River Bridge project in fuel tax dispute

Feb 24, 2022, 5:07 AM | Updated: Feb 25, 2022, 9:11 am

Columbia River Bridge...

The Clark County Council doesn't want to include tolls on a renovated Columbia River Bridge. (Thaddeus Roan, Flickr Creative Commons)

(Thaddeus Roan, Flickr Creative Commons)

A flashpoint in the Washington Legislature’s transportation spending debate has been the proposed, effective $0.06 per gallon tax on fuel refined in Washington state and shipped to Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho.

Washington exempts tax on fuel exports while imposing hefty motor vehicle taxes on residents of the Evergreen State. Republicans have referenced threats of reciprocal taxes on Alaskan seafood exports to Washington as evidence that the fuel export tax would hurt local consumers. Democrats have described the tax as one “overlooked” in years past, one which other states employ to fund native transportation spending. The tax is projected to raise approximately $2 billion over a 16 year period, funding a sizable chunk of the $16 billion transportation spending proposal currently being considered in the Legislature.

That debate has prompted Republicans in Oregon to threaten “walking away” from the bipartisan committee to fund the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement project.

“Republicans will not stand by and let Washington raise the cost-of-living for our residents without a fight,” wrote Oregon state Senator Lynn P. Findley (R-Vale), a member of the Bistate committee, in a news release.

“If the majority party in Washington thought we would turn a blind eye when they force us to pay for their roads, they are mistaken,” added Oregon state Representative Shelly Boshart Davis (R-Albany), who also serves on the committee.

The threat comes as Republicans look for leverage in transportation talks. Washington Rep. Andrew Barkis told KTTH last week that the GOP was largely left out of the conversation as the transportation package was drafted by Democrats.

Last session’s transportation bills went checked by Republicans in the Democratically-controlled Legislature as they required supermajorities to issue the debt to fund the legislation. That problem was sidestepped under the new transportation chair, Sen. Marko Liias, as the package sources most of its funds through the Climate Commitment Act and the aforementioned tax on fuel exports.

On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee earmarked an additional $200 million to the I-5 Columbia River Bridge project via an amendment drafted by Sen. Annette Cleveland. A total of $1.2 billion is marked for the project.

“The interstate bridge between Vancouver and Portland is very much in need of replacement,” Sen. Cleveland said Wednesday. “Last week marked its 150th anniversary. It was the first bridge between Washington and Oregon, the first automobile bridge ever built.”

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Republicans threaten to walk away from Columbia River Bridge project in fuel tax dispute