|Overview of the Governor's Proposed
Y THE YEAR 2000, Washington State's population is expected to
grow to nearly six million people, representing the fastest rate
of growth since World War II. This dramatic population increase
will put significant additional pressure on the state's already
burdened transportation system.
In addition, Washington is experiencing strong economic growth.
Recent tax incentives have helped bring major high-technology
businesses to the Northwest, promising tens of thousands of new
jobs. This trend requires a modern transportation system, capable
of meeting increased demands for transporting products to market
and employees to work.
To respond to these pressures and help ensure that Washington's
transportation system can sustain the state's economic growth
and quality of life, Governor Lowry is proposing a $3,107.2 million
budget for the Department of Transportation (DOT) in the 1997-99
Biennium. The Governor's budget makes the necessary investments
to meet the state's transportation needs.
The budget proposal also includes a plan for financing these investments.
As Washington State growth has outpaced the transportation revenue
sources that finance today's transportation budget, this plan
puts forth a new revenue approach that responds to critical needs
and provides more flexibility in directing resources toward a
variety of mobility demands.
In the past, most of the state's ground transportation problems
have been solved by adding a lane or building another highway.
Today, that solution is simply not enough. The state's crowded
metropolitan areas will not sustain this approach, nor will additional
lanes alone be sufficient to handle the vast number of cars and
trucks that would use them. Instead, Washington must do what
other states and countries have already done build multi-modal
alternative transportation solutions that will enable people and
goods to move more efficiently and reliably. Puget Sound-area
citizens recognized that need in November 1996, when they voted
to support the state's Regional Transportation Authority (RTA).
The policy debate about the best mix of transportation alternatives will no doubt continue, and technology will offer new solutions in the future - yet Washington faces a crossroads today. Without a commitment to invest in a broad-based transportation system that meets current and future needs, the state's economy could fall victim to its own growth.
The Governor's budget proposal will help expand mobility choices
by providing new support to public transit, passenger rail, and
some private, non-profit services that serve people with disabilities
and special transportation needs.
High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in the central Puget Sound
region are a great success story, but the system must be finished
quickly. Additional HOV lanes will enable the current freeway
system to substantially increase capacity and, through projects
coordinated with RTA, will allow buses and carpools to move quickly
and safely. The budget provides revenues sufficient to support
bond financing to fund completion of the core HOV system within
Major new investments to promote transportation alternatives include:
The budget proposal offers a plan for investment over the next
six years that builds on the strengths of today's system by also
funding traditional highway mobility projects. Thousands of drivers
in both urban and rural Washington rely on the state's highway
system every day, and important projects must move forward quickly
to offset growing congestion.
The budget reinforces the Washington State Transportation Commission's
commitment to highway system preservation, operation, and safety.
At the same time, it provides a balance of expenditures for projects
in all areas of the state including rural and urban centers
with projects both east and west of the Cascades. Completion
of the core HOV lane system will directly benefit residents of
the Puget Sound area while also improving statewide access to
the region's ports. Rural areas of the state will benefit from
freight rail investments and construction projects aimed at repairing
all-weather roads and rebuild bridges that do not meet height
and weight limits. Also funded are rural mobility, bicycle, and
pedestrian improvements and other projects to support tourism.
The budget targets investments in freight mobility to keep Washington
competitive in the global marketplace. Through funds allocated
to DOT, the state will be able to partner with other transportation
providers to address freight mobility, and rural public transportation,
and local development mitigation.
Highway-related elements of the Governor's proposal include:
To prepare adequately for the transportation needs of the future,
Washington State needs an efficient multi-modal transportation
system that meets the needs of businesses and individuals and
is supported by broader sources of revenues.
Historically, transportation financing has relied primarily on
the gas tax, with supplementation from the Motor Vehicle Excise
Tax. Today, the state-imposed gas tax rate is 23 cents per gallon
ranking Washington 17th among all states in fuel tax rates.
Unfortunately, while project costs grow with inflation, the gas
tax does not. In addition, the 18th Amendment to the State Constitution
limits the use of gas tax proceeds to only highway-related expenditures.
A more flexible funding source must be created to finance the
multi-modal mix of transportation investments that are now necessary.
To meet the state's changing transportation needs, the budget
proposes that the current state sales tax of 6.5 percent be extended
to cover the purchase price of fuel at the gas pump. Based on
an average per-gallon cost of $1.30, the proposal would increase
the cost of a gallon of gas by approximately 9 cents.
In addition, the budget proposes the issuance of $1.7 billion
in bonds to finance completion of the HOV core system, as well
as $230 million for urban/rural mobility projects.
The proposal also authorizes counties and cities, through a local
vote, to place an optional local sales tax on fuel. Any new revenues
would be used to fund priority transportation projects that have
been included in the regional Transportation Improvement Program
plans which are approved by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations.
Where ever the electorate has already voted to impose a local
option sales tax, such as for the RTA or local transit districts,
these entities will receive the additional revenue from the sale
of fuel in their districts. Counties and cities can vote to impose
the sales tax on fuel for local transportation needs. Smaller
junior taxing districts that already collect a local option sales
tax for criminal justice and public facilities would receive the
revenues collected from the sales tax on fuel if a county or city
exercises the local option.
This revenue proposal also generates enough funds to support the
expected operating costs for the Washington State Patrol over
the next six years, without implementing an increase in vehicle
The Alternative to Adequate Funding
State transportation revenues that are available under current
law are not sufficient to meet the growing demands on the system.
Federal funding for the state transportation program is decreasing,
current bond authorization is being exhausted, and current gas
tax revenues are growing at only 2 to 3 percent annually. The
transportation budget that is affordable within existing revenues
can only provide for funding of maintenance and preservation.
Preservation of the existing transportation system is a major
priority. However, a transportation budget without new revenues