A proposed 10-year transportation package to fund new infrastructure and court-ordered fish culvert projects cleared the Senate Transportation Committee after several amendments were incorporated. At the same time, remarks by Chair Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44) at the Mar. 6 executive session suggested that more revisions are likely if and when the package clears the Senate.
“I still see this as a work in progress,” he said. “There’s still changes to be made.”
Of the three bills included in the package, SB 5970 authorizing $5 billion in new bonds and SB 5972 listing new transportation projects cleared the committee with little discussion. Most of the focus concerned SSB 5971, which proposes a slew of new taxes including a $15 per-metric-ton carbon fee, a $.06-per-gallon gas tax increase and a sales tax on auto and bicycle parts. Under the revised bill, utilities would be subject to a $10 carbon fee which reduces state revenue from the package by $1.7 billion over 10 years. The $200 electric vehicle fee was also reduced to $150.
Also, the original bill would have had the state Department of Commerce determine which entities would be classified as energy intensive and trade exposed (EITE); the substitute offers a specific list of industries. That change reduces estimated revenue to the state over the 10-year period by roughly $450 million.
The package is meant to pay for construction of a new Interstate 5 Bridge from Vancouver to Portland, as well as to repair hundreds of fish culverts that impede salmon passage as part of a court injunction mandating that they be fixed by 2030. According to Washington Policy Center Environmental Director Todd Myers, the energy-related taxes alone would constitute a $220-295 annual increase in costs for two-car households.
Amendments made to SSB 5971 include toll relief for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to help pay for the debt associated with its construction. Vice Chair Rebecca Saldaña (D-37) sponsored several amendments that were rejected; one of them would have exempted local agencies from a prohibition on a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) if no state program is enacted by 2023. Another would have increased the carbon fee by 2.8 percent a year, generating an additional $700 million in revenue.
However, Hobbs opposed the amendments, saying “these are one of these things where it’s a delicate process to get people on board a hard tax – a carbon tax is a hard thing. We’ve got some folks on the business side that need the certainty that there is not an inflator on it. There’s got to be some give and take.”
Ranking member Sen. Curtis King (R-14) voted against SSB 5971, telling colleagues that despite efforts made by Hobbs to address concerns raised, “there are things in this revenue package I cannot support” including new tax proposals.
The bills have been referred to Rules Committee.