The passage of Initiative 976, regarding car tabs, means some of these projects and services in the state’s transportation budget will be cut.
How big are the cuts? We know roughly how much will be cut from the state—roughly $454 million in this current budget and an estimated $680 million in the next transportation budget.
What services will be cut, and what projects will be delayed? We don’t know yet where those cuts will come from, since the initiative was silent on that question. It will be up to lawmakers this session to do the unhappy work of cutting transportation services and delaying needed projects.
What about the court cases? Local governments and stakeholders have gone to court to challenge this initiative, but those court cases won’t be decided and appealed until after the legislature finishes session. That means we have to assume the cuts will happen and budget accordingly.
Can’t you just tap the rainy day fund or raise gas taxes to fill the holes? The state operating budget has reserves that, by law and constitutional amendment, can only be tapped for emergencies or recessions and only by super-majority votes. So we can’t empty the rainy day fund to fund transportation services and projects.
The gas tax is also a constitutional issue, with the 18th Amendment to the state constitution requiring that gas tax revenue be spent on highways. That’s why some of the car tabs, weight fees and other fees eliminated by I-976 were such key sources of funding for mass transit.
What’s next? There isn’t a quick and easy answer to this problem. I will work with lawmakers from both parties on how to balance the state transportation budget, given these cuts. And I’ll keep you updated about this issue.
-Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), Chair of the House Transportation Committee