Washington state bill taps existing revenue for roads

January 13, 2020

Keith Goble


The Washington state Legislature returns to work this week to address issues deemed by lawmakers to be of significance. Among the topics drawing attention is transportation funding.

Washington’s Initiative 976

In 2016, voters in the state approved a ballot question to boost transportation revenue via an increase in “car tabs,” vehicle sales taxes and other fees. Three years later voters reverse course and approved Initiative 976 to nix the higher fees.

As a result, the state is expected to lose more than $4 billion in transportation revenue over the next six years.

The issue, however, remains unsettled. The Washington Supreme Court upheld a superior court decision to temporarily block Initiative 976 from taking effect.

In the meantime, state officials are looking for viable options to replace the lost revenue.

Tapping existing revenue for roads

At the start of the regular session Jan. 13, one state lawmaker has already introduced a bill to boost transportation revenue through a source already available to the state.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, is the sponsor of a bill to redirect state sales tax revenue from vehicle purchases for roads and bridges. The money now is routed to the state’s general fund.

Specifically, SB6041 would shift vehicle sales tax revenue from one budget to the other in 10% increments over the next decade.

“Relying on gas tax revenue and car tabs as the main sources of revenue for transportation needs is financially unreliable and politically difficult,” Braun said in prepared remarks. “The Legislature would be wise to start cultivating an additional source of transportation revenue, and the sales tax on vehicles is a logical candidate.”

Braun estimates shifting vehicle sales tax revenue would provide more than $30 billion for transportation purposes over the next 20 years.

The issue is not without opposition. Legislative leaders on the opposite side of the aisle are critical of diverting funds away from the general fund.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has said he believes it is a bad idea to raid revenue allotted for education and other purposes.

The bill awaits consideration in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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