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House Transportation Package Not a Gift for Taxpayers on Tax Day

Proposal Bad for Transportation, Environment, Fiscal Future
For Immediate Release

SEATTLE – The House Transportation Committee approved a transportation revenue and spending package last night that increases taxes to pay overwhelmingly for highway expansions that in some cases are wasteful and unjustified, and that could worsen environmental pollution and climate change emissions.  Meanwhile, the package shortchanges funding for the repair and maintenance of our existing roads and bridges.  

“While the state has many unmet transportation needs that require money, that doesn’t mean that any package of new transportation money is meeting those needs,” said Bruce Speight, WashPIRG Executive Director.  “The package passed last night would waste taxpayer money, invest in unneeded highway expansion, increase debt service for questionable projects, and neglect other critical infrastructure needs.  If we are going to ask taxpayers to spend more money on our transportation system, we should spend it responsibly; the House package doesn’t do that.” 

The House transportation package falls short in the following ways:

• Neglects repair and maintenance of roads and bridges: According to new Federal Highway Administration data released in January, 382 bridges in Washington were structurally deficient at the end of 2014, an increase of 10 over the 2013 statewide total, and an increase of 16 over the 2012 count.  City and county roads across the state also need repair, but cash-strapped local governments simply don’t have the money to keep them in good shape.  Despite these and other pressing maintenance needs, the House Transportation package approved a meager $1.6 billion over the next 16 years for repair and preservation. That’s less than one-fifth the amount approved for new highway construction.  

• Could Increase Environmental Harm: The package increases investment in highway construction and lane capacity, which could worsen climate change emissions from the transportation sector, which is already the state’s largest source of GHG emissions.  In addition, more highways could contribute to increased storm-water runoff and water pollution.

• Biggest Piece is a Waste: The house package, like the Senate package, includes questionable highway expansion projects.  For example, the Puget Sound Gateway funded with a whopping $1.8 billion, receives more funding than the entire highway preservation budget.  This project is based on plans conceived 65 years ago, without any real updates to reflect current needs.  While proponents tout that it is important for trade, most trade in Washington will not benefit from the project: airplanes and soybean meal, which account for more than half of all exports, aren’t shipped through either of these ports.  Hundreds of petitions and dozens of opposition letters signed by members of the community, local elected officials, small business owners, and students were delivered to state legislators urging them to cut wasteful highway spending on projects like the Puget Sound Gateway.

• A Bad Deal for Taxpayers: The House package will further strain the debt situation for the future, so it’s particularly troubling that it is proposing questionable investments.  Washington state treasurer James McIntire warned the legislature about the risks of increased bonding, saying that aggressive issuance of highway construction bonds backed by fuel taxes “will limit funds for maintenance and operation costs and can affect the state’s ability to share [fuel tax] revenue with local governments. Ultimately, staying on this path can stress the general fund and negatively affect Washington’s strong credit rating – which could in turn significantly increase borrowing costs for the state across the board.” 

While the House package did remove some bad provisions in the Senate Transportation package, including the clean fuels poison pill and a highway project that was an $85 million giveaway to the coal industry, the overall House bill does not provide Washington taxpayers with the transportation package we need.  

“What Washington needs, now more than ever, is a responsible transportation package: one that focuses on repairing and maintaining our roads and bridges, gets our fiscal house in order, and promotes smart growth with multi-modal investments that will enable the state to grow and prosper in the 21st century.”

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WashPIRG is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that stands up to powerful special interests.   www.washpirg.org. 

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