Letter to the editor: Washington is getting plenty of money from gas tax
By John Ley/Camas — Jan 21, 2020 — The Reflector
The 18th Legislative District representatives recently held three town hall events. Sen. Ann Rivers and Reps. Brandon Vick and Larry Hoff pride themselves in the number of town hall events they hold for the people to make input and express concerns.
At the Jan. 4 Camas-Washougal town hall, taxes and transportation were at the top of citizens comments and concerns. One woman stated with I-976 ($30 car tabs), the government will lose money and needs new taxes to fund road and bridge repairs. She believed transportation dollars are declining due to cars getting better mileage and electric and hybrid vehicles not paying gas taxes.
Rep. Brandon Vick agreed responding: “We recognize the gas tax revenues will keep going down,” and, “the pots going to run dry sooner rather than later.”
Sen. Rivers and Rep. Hoff didn’t say otherwise.
Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.
Washington’s 49.4-cent gas tax is the third highest in the nation. Total transportation dollars the Legislature spends is at an all time high. So are gas tax revenues.
(Washington state document showing TOTAL transportation revenues)
Transportation revenues show roughly $2.5 billion from 1999 to 2001 and an estimate of nearly $7 billion in 2025 to 2027. More specifically, a separate Legislature document shows gas tax revenues at $1.23 billion in 2010 and $1.83 billion in 2019, with a forecast of $1.87 billion in 2021.
There is no “shortage” of taxpayer money.
The issue regarding poor road and bridge maintenance is how the Legislature allocates dollars. We pay double or triple the price for ferry boats due to a “must be built in Washington” requirement. We have the nation’s largest ferry system. The Legislature allocates significant money toward Puget Sound mass transit projects and flawed WSDOT designed projects like the 520 floating bridge pontoons that leaked. Prevailing wage and excessive environmental requirements add significant costs.
Rep. Vick later stated on social media: “Our forecasts clearly show that gas tax revenue will decrease due in large part to more fuel-efficient vehicles. A risk of a live event. What remains true is that the gas tax is not a viable long-term funding source for future transportation projects.”
Rivers claimed I was “cherry-picking data.” Not so — I use state data. Electric and hybrid cars are about 3 percent of vehicles.
One might be tempted to think inflation is the culprit. Nope. Inflation 2003-2019 means 28 cent gas tax becomes 39 cents; 1993-2019 means 23 cents becomes 43 cents; and 1981-2019 means 13.5 cents becomes 40 cents. Our 49.4 cent gas tax has more than kept up with inflation. The Legislature rarely hesitates to raise gas taxes when they need money.
The gas tax is the most efficient means of collecting transportation funds — a 1 percent cost of collection. Tolling on Seattle’s I-405 consumes 43 percent in collection costs.
The bottom line — our state is getting plenty of taxpayer money from gas taxes.
Our elected representatives need to communicate accurate information to the people. We don’t need new taxes!
The short version of Rep. Vick’s response to citizen — “the gas tax revenue will continue to go down”.
(Video excerpt from Lacamas Magazine video. Full length may be viewed here.
(Washington state graphic provided by Senator Rivers)
(Graphic WA State Auditor 2014 with added highlights/remarks)
NOTE: “basic road maintenance” spending declined over the 25 year period shown above.
(March 2017 state document showing gas tax revenues by source from FY 2010 to 2012)
The graphic below shows I-405 (Puget Sound) TOLLING has a 43% cost of collection. The graphic created by WSDOT in their 2018 Tolling Division Annual Report.