Transpo 2015: Beware attempts to get around 18th Amendment

I’ve already noted some of my objections to the idea of financing transportation projects through a cap-and-trade carbon tax rather than a gas tax (see Gov’s transportation plan isn’t honest about who will pay). We’ll be exploring a few more reasons this week that this is the wrong idea at the wrong time.

It’s fair to say the cap-and-trade plan has not garnered a good reaction in Olympia. It’s been described as “problematic” and “a non-starter” – and that’s from the governor’s fellow Democrats.

Even the governor seems not to expect much traction for his transportation plan. In his State of the State address he called it “a good-faith compromise to spark action” this year. It seemed like a set-up line to later take credit for the completely different transportation package that will actually emerge out of the Legislature.

As much as we may not enjoy paying gas taxes, they are a good way to finance our highway system.

  • Gas consumption is a rough but pretty accurate measure for how much wear-and-tear a vehicle puts on our road system. Consumption is driven by vehicle weight and miles driven. Through a per-gallon tax, road users are paying roughly their fair share. As electric vehicles grow in popularity, we will need to devise a fair system for taxing their road use as well.
  • Under the 18th Amendment of our state constitution, our gas tax dollars are required to be spent on highway projects. By instituting a gas tax to fund the transportation projects our economy needs rather than other taxes, we guarantee those funds will be spent on highway projects.

The gas tax is a dedicated source of funds that must be spent on highway safety and maintenance, and for building the projects that move the most people and fuel our economy. If we relied on a source that is not constitutionally protected, the temptation to divert that revenue during tight times would simply be too great. Moving away from the gas tax at this stage, without requiring a different dedicated source, is not a wise move.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.