Nowadays, the government needs more than gasoline taxes to fund its vast mission to expand, replace and preserve transportation routes in Washington state.
Legislators have drawn up a menu of 33 tax and fee increases under the proposed 16-year Forward Washington plan, updated last week by Senate Transportation Committee Chair Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens. That way, perhaps no single cost will provoke enough public fury to torpedo the plan.
“Nobody likes to be taxed, but we also want to make this fair as we spread it across different sectors,” Hobbs said Friday.
His approach holds direct gas-tax hikes to 9.8 cents per gallon.
That’s just beneath a 10-cent psychological barrier some colleagues have asked to avoid, Hobbs said. But more negotiations could send it higher, he said.
In 2015, the Legislature wound up boosting gasoline taxes 11.9 cents over two years, to a total 67.8 cents state and federal tax, now sixth-highest in the country.
By charging for car tabs, food deliveries, fuels, auto parts — even higher fees to change your driver’s license picture — the state could raise $15.3 billion to go with $2.75 billion in bond sales, for a total $18.7 billion.
Republicans have been tweeting “#Taxapalooza,” to lampoon the combined cost of proposed gasoline taxes, low-carbon fuel standards, and a “cap-and-trade” regimen to suppress statewide carbon use. Legislative bills remain alive in the 2021 session scheduled to end April 25, but Hobbs doubts all three will pass.
A Washington Research Council economist has estimated cap-and-trade equates to 18 cents a gallon in 2023, which would gradually increase. (Transportation budgets, including stream culverts, electrification, and walk-bike routes, would receive about 70% of that.) The Washington Farm Bureau is opposed.
Companies won’t necessarily pass on the entire cost to consumers, and provisions exist in Senate Bill 5126 to provide discounts to low-income households, said proponent Vlad Gutman-Britten, state director for Climate Solutions.
A few targeted taxes on Hobbs’ list are creating blowback.
The Building Industry Association of Washington testified last week against proposed fees of $150 per $100,000 of value for new housing.
“Nearly three quarters of Washington households cannot qualify for a mortgage today,” said Jan Himebaugh, BIAW government affairs director. “Adding costs to homes further removes access to the wealth generating opportunities of homeownership.”
Hobbs said he thinks about big suburban enclaves under construction in Lake Stevens, where neighbors fear a traffic nightmare. New buildings pay for their sewer pipes and electric wires, so why not roads, he argues.
The latest version also would require transit and school buses to pay highway tolls, an idea Pierce Transit immediately asked the Senate to withdraw. On the other hand, a proposed sales-tax surcharge on bicycles has been removed.
Hobbs said he worries people will obsess about taxes instead of the mobility benefits, construction jobs and replacement of fish-blocking culverts.
Big projects include four ferries, a new Highway 2 westbound trestle from Snohomish and Lake Stevens into Everett; an Interstate 5 replacement bridge into Portland; and a Columbia Gorge replacement bridge into Hood River, Oregon. There’s also a $500 million widening of Highway 18 south of Snoqualmie, and a $414 million widening of Highway 3 at Gorst between Bremerton and Port Orchard.
Environmental and transit advocates criticize the lists as too highway-focused, in the midst of global warming.
“Climate disruption is the largest threat humans have faced. The possible devastation is biblical, and we must start adapting now. First we must stop emitting climate pollution,” testified Andrew Kidde, of 350 Seattle. The plan, he said, “continues to build the same infrastructure and perpetuate the same behavior that caused the problem.”
Here are the 33 proposed taxes and fees — and a 34th piece that saves drivers money. Changes would take effect Sept. 1 unless stated otherwise.
- Gasoline tax, a 9.8 cents per gallon increase July 1, 2021, to raise $5.2 billion
- “Cap & Invest,” a carbon fee Jan. 1, 2023, raises $5.2 billion.
- Ordinary 6.5% sales tax on hybrid and electric cars moves from general fund into transportation July 1, 2025, raises $1.0 billion.
- Tax on new construction ($150 per $100,000 value residential, $100 per $100,000 on manufacturing, $300 per $100,000 for commercial, zero for farms and timber) starting Jan. 1, 2023, raises $803 million.
- Fees of 50 cents per trip on food deliveries, taxis and ride-hailing services Jan. 1, 2022, raises $711 million.
- Sales tax on Forward Washington construction is held for transportation uses, keeping $563 million.
- Sales-tax increase of 1% on auto parts, raises $405 million.
- Motorcycle license-plate fee of $4 increases to $6, and car-plate fee of $10 increases to $15, raises $291 million.
- Boat tax doubles to 1% for most non-fishing vessels over 16 feet, raises $254 million
- Enhanced driver’s license and ID fees (six-year card) of $24 increase to $42, raises $142 million.
- Annual license fees increase 5% on vehicles over 10,000 pounds, raises $125 million.
- Standard driver’s license fees (six-year card) of $54 increase to $60, raises $118 million.
- Car-rental tax of 5.9% increases to 6.9%, raises $108 million.
- Driver-record abstract fee of $13 increases to $14, raises $83 million.
- Background-check fee, now $15 to check whether cars moved here from other states are stolen, increases to $25, raises $77 million.
- A $10 weight-fee increase for cars and pickups July 1, 2021 instead of a year later, raises $70 million.
- A 50-cent car-tab surcharge to help fund new ferries increases to 75 cents, raises $68 million.
- Oversized truckload trip fee of $25 increases to $45, raises $62 million.
- Personal trailer license-tab fee of $15 increases to $20, raises $44 million.
- Title fees on car registrations or sales, increases $1 to a total $16, raises $38 million.
- Fee to change your driver’s license picture, increased from $10 to $20, raises $34 million.
- Interest income while these fees sit in a savings account, $25 million.
- Motor home weight fees of $75 increases to $95 per year, raises $24 million.
- Extend license-tab processing fees of 75 cents to trucks, raises $22 million.
- Aircraft fuel tax of 11 cents increases to 16 cents, raises $19 million for aviation purposes.
- Vehicle “lookup fee” of $2 increases to $4 for users, raises $18 million.
- Driver record-monitoring fee of 6 cents increases to 8 cents, raises $9 million.
- Bulk-data fee of 2.5 cents increases to 5 cents, raises $6 million.
- Surcharge of $50 for quick title processing increases to $55, raises $3 million.
- Commercial drone registration fee of $15, raises $3 million.
- License-tab fee for personal trailers of $187.50 for lifetime use, increases to $200, raises $2 million.
- Pay-by-the-mile charges begin in 2025-2026 to replace existing $225 car-tab fee on electric and hybrid cars, income unknown.
- Charge tolls on transit and school buses, income unknown.
- Move $146 million from the sources above into Tacoma Narrows Bridge account to prevent toll increases, a revenue loss of $146 million.