Governor Jay Inslee spoke with Ross Reynolds on The Conversation Thursday about the proposed gas tax increase and his vision for Washington's transportation needs. Expiring federal funds, booming population and the need for more jobs create an urgency for the Legislature to come up with bipartisan solutions, according to the governor.
Future Transportation Needs
Addressing long commute times and building the infrastructure for quick freight movement are key to generating more jobs in the Puget Sound region, according to Inslee. To illustrate how transportation influences Washington's ability to attract new jobs, he used a Boeing's future project of 777 replacement manufacturing. He argued that speedy movement of carbon fibers and aluminum ensure competitiveness against other markets like South Carolina and China.
Inslee also argued that population increases in the Puget Sound region and long commute times require additional resources and new strategies in managing traffic flow. "We have to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our transportation quarters to move more people per mile," insisted Inslee. "We’re going to have to find a way to finance these projects."
The Gas Tax
Funding transportation is a challenge facing the Legislature, and one possible solution is a proposed gas tax that would raise an estimated $10 billion. However, polls indicate a strong opposition to the increase. When asked if a gas tax ought to be brought to a public vote, Governor Inslee said that legislators must be willing to make tough decisions. "If other people want to put it on a ballot, they have the right to do that. But I would expect legislators to try to fashion a package, pass it, do the work that legislators are paid to do, and governors are paid to do as well. We ought to take that responsibility onto our shoulders and not duck it," he said.
Ross Reynolds, host of The Conversation, asked the governor to respond to the Washington State Transportation Commission report that estimated that the state needs $200 billion over the next 20 years to fund the necessary projects to address future needs. Inslee replied, “I don’t really share their assessment of what a reasonable approach to our transportation needs are, and no matter what you do, someone is always going to say there is another project that we’ll eventually have to fund.”
Using Federal Funds
Finding funding for future projects is not the only transportation policy decisions the Legislature faces. Existing transportation projects also require immediate attention, according to Inslee. An example project the governor cited is the Columbia River Bridge Crossing. Inslee stated that there are $850 million federal dollars available for the project that is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. "Unfortunately, if we don’t act this year, there is a significant risk that the $850 million will disappear next year, and never be available to us again," he said. Inslee urged swift bipartisan action to prevent Washington tax payers from being burdened by the lost federal dollars.
When asked how he plans on financing future transportation projects, Inslee replied, "I’m not taking any financing mechanism off the table."