Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are wrapping up a long couple weeks on the House floor. There has been late nights and weekend work as we debate and vote on House bills to send over to the Senate. While there are some good bills, and many bad bills, making their way through the legislative process the two big issues I want to address since my last e-mail update is the House Democrats 10-cent per gallon gas tax proposal and the Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling that the two-thirds legislative vote requirement to raise taxes as unconstitutional.
House Democrat’s transportation tax plan
As I mentioned, majority Democrats in the House want to create a new, 10-cent per gallon gas tax. Should this proposal come to fruition, drivers in Washington would pay the highest gas tax in the nation, more than doubling the state’s gas tax since 2003. When you include federal gas taxes, drivers in our state would pay 66 cents in combined state and federal taxes for every gallon of gasoline they purchase. The proposal isn’t just about increasing the gas tax. They also want to:
- reinstate the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, or MVET. The proposal is a .7 percent tax which amounts to $140 increase in license fees for a $20,000 automobile;
- increase the weight fee by 15 percent for large vehicles. Cost to owners: $102 million;
- implement a fee of $25 for each bicycle purchased that is valued over $500. Cost to bicyclists: $1 million; and
- increase the hazardous substance tax increase 0.3 percent. Cost to farmers and taxpayers: $897 million.
We all know the maintenance and operation of our transportation system, as well as construction of new projects is essential for the free flow of people, goods and services in our state. However, without some reassurances in the way our transportation dollars are spent and some significant reforms, taxpayers should not have to pay more out of their wallets.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Legislature need to show us they can spend our transportation dollars wisely. I do not think anyone in this state knows that better than the people of southwest Washington. We have spent $165 million on the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) and we are still aren’t sure how high the bridge will be, if they are going to require light rail, how many businesses and jobs it is going to displace and many other questions. Our own WSDOT has had their own challenges. That is why House Republicans have introduced “Fix it before you fund it.” Our caucus has introduced a number of reform bills that will not only ensure our gas tax dollars go further, but build some accountability and trust with you, the taxpayers.
· House Bill 1236 – improve the permitting process.
· House Bill 1619 – suspend GMA requirements in counties with persistently high unemployment.
Making state gas tax dollars go further
· House Bill 1985 – eliminate state and local sales and use tax on new transportation projects.
· House Bill 1986 – require WSDOT to report engineering errors.
· House Bill 1984 – limit WSDOT’s tort liability.
· House Bill 1989 – 15-year bond terms, instead of the current 30-year bonding practice.
We are considering other reforms as well. If you have any questions or would like more details about our reform bills, please let me know.
The Washington State Supreme Court decision to strike down the requirement for a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes is a slap in the face to Washington taxpayers. You can read my statement here. I am concerned this will add some uncertainty to our economy. Employers will hesitate to hire and invest with the threat of tax increases being passed with a simple majority now. I am also concerned this will put taxes back on the table instead of considering reforms and efficiencies first. However, the part of this I find the most frustrating, and ironic, is that members of the Democrat party were part of the lawsuit. They were elected by the people, to represent the people of their district and the state, yet they sign onto a lawsuit to overturn what those people voted for, not once but five times. How is that representing the voice and the will of the people? It is time we put the two-thirds requirement in the state constitution so the courts and the Legislature must uphold it. That is why I have co-sponsored House Joint Resolution 4206, which would do just that.
Sen. Don Benton and I invite 17th Legislative District residents to meet with us this Saturday evening in Vancouver. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at the Firstenburg Community Center, 700 N.E. 136th Avenue. We look forward to seeing you there. We have a lot of issues and legislation to discuss.
Please let me know if you have any questions or need further information about the town hall or anything else.