WA’s top Democrat withdraws support for exported fuel tax
Facing mounting pressure from neighboring states, a senior Democrat in the Washington Legislature is now drawing support from a proposed tax on fuel exported from the state’s five refineries.
Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, one of the architects of a $16.8 billion transportation funding measure project, said Saturday he would walk a amendment hitting the controversial tax.
“We’ve heard from people and heard their concerns,” Fey said in an interview. “Everything from the price of oil as it was, to worry about what might happen with what’s happening in Ukraine, to the response from elected officials in Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.”
Instead of the tax, which is expected to raise $2 billion over the next 16 years, Fey instead wants to transfer $100 million a year for the next 15 years from the state’s public works account.
“Transportation projects are public works, by definition,” Fey said.
If the amendment passes, it would leave the state with $500 million less in funding for transportation projects than was proposed in the original Democrats package. Fey said that would inevitably mean some parts of the measure will be removed, but he doesn’t know which ones. His priorities remain the same on maintenance and preservation funding, fish culverts, the ferry system, and completing long-promised state highway projects like the 520 in Seattle.
Fey said he informed members of the Democratic House of the change and spoke to his counterpart, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, on Saturday morning.
Liias said in a text message that he was “satisfied” with the progress of the package in the House and was “open to other ways of funding it.”
“I look forward to ironing out the details at the conference once they pass the bill,” he said.
In recent days, some Democratic members have worried about the repercussions of approving the tax, Fey said. “Our view was that it was just too risky,” he said. “It jeopardized the whole package, and there was just too much weight on it.”
Heading into this year’s short 60-day session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for increased funding for the state’s aging and outdated transportation system, but so far have not come forward. not united on the best way forward. Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, negotiated the funding measure without Republican involvement.
A ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Andrew Barkis, said Saturday he was glad the tax was removed.
“If we had talked about it from the start, they would have avoided this type of backlash,” he said.
Barkis also expressed concern about the proposed use of the public works account, which he described as “a heavily guarded account” by local governments.
“It’s going to be a heavy burden,” he said. Barkis said he still prefers a dedicated sales tax stream for long-term transportation funding.
Inaugurated by Fey and Liias, a pro-transit lawmaker in his first year as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, the proposed package spends heavily on major unfinished road projects as well as transit services and accessible corridors. non-vehicular modes of transport. It would also direct billions toward building the state’s ferry fleet, removing barriers to fish passage, and spending $1 billion on a new I-5 bridge between Oregon and Washington.
To fund the measure, Democrats have pledged to stop raising the gas tax — the main mechanism used in the state’s previous three transportation funding programs. Instead, they relied on billions in new revenue from a new carbon pricing system, approved in 2021, as well as the expected influx of cash from the federal government. They also authorized a one-time transfer of operating funds.
At the same time, Democrats proposed a 6-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel exported from the state. Washington is home to five refineries. Nearly 40% of the fuel processed there is shipped to other states, primarily Oregon. In proposing the new tax, Democrats said it was a way for neighboring states to share in the environmental burden caused by these refineries.
But the backlash was swift, accompanied by a wave of legal threats. Republican lawmakers in Washington have united in opposition to both the new tax and the entire transportation package. Republicans in Idaho and Alaska predictably threatened retaliation.
The real sting, however, came from the opposition in Oregon, including Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat. In an op-ed and a subsequent letter, Brown called on Washington Governor Jay Inslee to veto the tax and on legislators in the Legislative Assembly to change course. She said the tax would inevitably get bogged down in legal battles, jeopardizing cooperation between the two states on a new I-5 crossing over the Columbia River.
Fey said Democrats are heeding those concerns.
The revenue portion of the proposed transportation package, including the tax, has already been approved by the Senate and the House Transportation Committee. He will come to the House floor next week and Fey will then move his amendment. The package will then return to the Senate.