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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Washington Legislature approves transportation revenue plan


OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers have given final approval to a nearly $17 billion, 16-year transportation revenue package as they prepare to wrap up their 60-day legislative session Thursday.

The transportation revenue package, which passed both Democratic-led chambers on mostly party line votes, spends on projects ranging from building new hybrid electric ferries and funding more walking and biking corridors to highway maintenance and replacing fish passage culverts. Funding is also provided to ensure that those age 18 and younger can ride for free on public transportation.

Unlike previous packages that have included gas tax increases, the plan gets a bulk of its funding — $5.4 billion — from a carbon pricing program signed into law last year that requires the state’s largest emitters, like refineries, to purchase credits for allowed emissions if they exceed a cap set by regulators.

Democratic Sen. Reuven Carlyle said the plan’s use of the carbon pricing plan is an appropriate use of that money.

Local Angle

The transportation package includes $1 billion for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program on Interstate 5, representing Washington’s share of the project’s cost. Oregon will need to pass a similar-sized funding package for the bridge and the remainder of the project will be paid for with funds from the federal government and likely tolls for drivers crossing the bridge.

Funding for the pedestrian and bicycle overpass at Stapleton Road over state Highway 500 and for C-Tran’s next bus rapid transit project planned along Highway 99 was also included in the state’s transportation package.

—Sarah Wolf

“It is exactly what we have said we believe should be the policy of this state for many years, about how to move forward with transportation with a sustainable approach,” he said.

The changes to the current two-year state operating budget were released publicly Wednesday following negotiations between House and Senate Democratic budget writers. In addition to state funds, the budget uses more than $1 billion of COVID-19 federal relief funds.

Before they can adjourn, lawmakers still need to pass the $64.1 billion supplemental operating budget, upon which the transportation revenue package relies on.

The operating budget transfers more than $2 billion to the package after lawmakers had to find another funding option after they cut an initial proposed tax on fuel exported from the state’s five refineries that was heavily criticized by neighboring states. In addition to the initial transfer, for the next 15 years, the agreed-upon plan pulls an additional $57 million a year from the state budget, and another $57 million a year from the state’s public works account.

Republican Rep. Andrew Barkis decried that Republicans weren’t involved in the process as they have been in previous years.

He said while there are good things in the package, “I have concerns about where some of the money is coming from.”

The transportation revenue package now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

Lawmakers next will take up a final operating state supplemental budget that builds off of the $59 billion, two-year spending plan adopted by the Legislature last year and is similar to initial proposals released last month by both chambers, with significant spending in a variety of areas, including efforts on reducing homelessness, adding more social supports like nurses and counselors for students, behavioral health and ongoing pandemic response, including rental and utility assistance for people who are trying to avoid eviction.

While there are no general tax increases, there are also no across-the-board tax cuts, something Republicans had argued should have been on the table given the significant influx of revenues the state has seen over the past year.

Lawmakers had already reached agreement on a $1.5 billion state construction budget that spends on areas ranging from housing and homelessness, to behavioral health facilities, to making seismic upgrades at public schools. That budget cleared both chambers with unanimous support this week and is headed to Inslee for his signature.