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Transportation funding package moves to the House

Free passes on public transportation for young people and upgrades to major bridges are all part of a 16-year transportation funding plan approved by the Washington State Senate.

The Senate approved the proposed revenue sources for the $17 billion “Move Ahead Washington” transportation investment package on a 29-20 vote Feb. 15. The bill sponsored by Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, now goes to the House for consideration.

The plan includes funding for transit programs, replacement of fish passageways and electrification of the state’s ferry fleet.

“We are on the verge of a new day in transportation,” Liias said.

Over $2.5 billion will be designated for new projects, with nearly half being set aside to cover Washington’s portion of replacing the I-5 Columbia River Bridge. Additional projects include widening State Route 18 and building a new Highway 2 trestle to expand capacity between Snohomish and Everett.

The package would also include funding to ensure those 18 and younger can ride for free on public transportation. An additional $1.2 billion would be dedicated to promoting walking and bicycling through infrastructure improvements and safety programs.

Republican legislative leaders expressed frustration about their exclusion from the negotiations that formulated the plan.

Transportation Committee Ranking Minority member Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said the creation of the bill breaks tradition of transportation being handled as a bipartisan issue.

“This bill just continues what we’ve been doing over the last three or four years, making it less and less affordable for our citizens to live in the state of Washington,” he said.

Responding to the minority’s complaints, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, said while the plan may not have bipartisan support, it does address Republican concerns including the preservation and maintenance of the transportation system.

Democrats promised a new gas tax will not be used to pay for the package. Funding for the package will rely on a variety of sources, such as an increase in vehicle related-fees, federal funding and a transfer from the state general fund.

A large portion of the plan, $5.5 billion, would be funded by a carbon pricing program signed into law last year under the Climate Commitment Act. Beginning in 2023, the state will collect revenue from the largest polluters, such as refineries, who purchase allowances to exceed the set emissions cap.

About $2 billion in revenue would be collected from a new 6-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel exported to states with lower gas tax rates such as Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. Republicans offered an amendment to remove the tax from the proposal, arguing nearby states would retaliate and take their business elsewhere.

“This is not what we should be doing to our neighbors,” King said. “It’s not what we should be doing to the customers that those refineries have relied on for years.”

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said fuel companies may have to compensate by shifting the cost at the pump to state residents.

Republican-sponsored amendments proposing the removal of the taxes and fees as revenue sources of the package failed to pass.

The bill’s counterpart outlining how the funds will be sent still needs to pass the Senate. The package must also pass the House of Representatives.

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