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Sighs Of Relief, Challenges Left For Transportation Funding In Washington

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Thursday’s Washington Supreme Court ruling that struck down the car tabs initiative has brought relief to the people who look for money for transportation projects.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs calls the decision “a big win for the city.” He says it can continue to charge vehicle owners a $20-a-year to fund street and pedestrian improvements.

Local legislators say the ruling puts a spotlight on the need to find new ways to fund transportation projects.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli [D-Spokane] says a state analysis shows the $30 car tabs initiative [Initiative 976], if enacted, would have taken about $400 million from transportation funding this year and $600 million in the next budget. Factor in that gas tax revenues are down, in part because people are driving less during the pandemic, and you see that a lot of money expected to be there for highways and ferries and bridges may not be.

“Gas taxes can not be relied on in the future with cars being more efficient, with more electric cars, with more hybrids. I think this just tees up another reason to have this very important, robust conversation on how we will fund transportation in the future," he said.

Riccelli is a member of the House Transportation Committee. Republican Mike Padden is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee. He says part of the solution may be to shift money that’s already collected.

“I’ve long favored moving the sales tax money from automobile sales and auto parts sales from the general fund to transportation. They’re directly tied in to transportation. It makes more sense. I think the general fund has been using transportation money for far too long," he said.

While Padden suggests redirecting revenues, Timm Ormsby suggests lawmakers may also have to revise their transportation spending. Ormsby is a Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

“My personal opinion is that it’s going to need to focus on operation and maintenance and not go to those shiny, sparkly, new projects which members love, the public loves," but which can’t be maintained and sustained in future years, Ormsby said.

The legislature goes back to work in early January.

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