How to get where we’re going on transportation

Compromise requires concession, especially when the subjects of transportation, taxes and the environment intersect.

It appears the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee have come to terms on a $16.1 billion transportation budget that should be ready for the governor’s signature some time today. We’ve harped on this issue often enough we welcome the resolution, even though it required the regular session and more than two special sessions to complete this and other budget matters.

Republicans, in proposing a transportation budget in the Senate all the way back in March, signaled they were ready to move a funding package forward with an increase in the gas tax. Democrats agreed to a change that redistributes sales tax receipts from transportation projects back into the transportation budget instead of the general fund. And the governor also finally had to give on what had been called a “poison pill.” Republicans tied $1 billion in multimodal public transportation projects to a requirement that Gov. Inslee and the state Department of Ecology not proceed with plans to implement a low-carbon fuel standard. The standard, similar to what California and Oregon have adopted, would have required a 10 percent reduction in carbon emissions from vehicles over 10 years. Republicans objected to the standard, citing the increase in fuel costs that would have resulted.

If not a poison pill, it was a bitter pill for Inslee to swallow, especially after the Legislature rejected his earlier call to fund some of the state budget through a carbon tax. Inslee has pledged to sign the bill, even though it ties his hands, recognizing the transportation budget’s importance to jobs, traffic congestion relief, safety and infrastructure improvements and the state’s economy. Even without the low-carbon standard, the transit projects themselves, by encouraging people to leave behind their single-occupancy vehicles, still can have a significant impact on carbon reduction, improving our air quality and health.

Inslee shouldn’t drop his advocacy for either the carbon tax or the fuel standard. Both issues should be revisited and discussed further. California and Oregon’s experience with the low-carbon standard over the next few years may help inform the debate here, allowing us to avoid speculation about the costs involved.

We can also hope that our representatives in Washington, D.C., are paying attention to the deal struck here for transportation. U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen is in Snohomish County this week to visit Marysville, Lynnwood and Everett to discuss the Grow America Act that he co-sponsored in the House. The act would inject $478 billion into the federal Highway Trust Fund. (See the Congressman’s commentary here). Joined with the state’s transportation budget, the act is crucial to many transportation projects in the county and the state.

Voters will have their own concessions to make, specifically ballot measures for tax increases by Community Transit to expand bus service and Sound Transit to extend the Link light rail line to Everett.

But this is how we build a transportation system that will serve us well into the 21st century.

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