Governor signs new state transportation budget, House Bill 2322 by Rep. Jake Fey
OLYMPIA—During the 2020 session, the biggest challenge to budget writers in the House and Senate was finding a way to fill the nearly half-billion reduction in revenues due to the passage of Initiative 976.
“With the governor’s assistance, we produced a good budget that successfully dealt with the impacts of Initiative 976,” said Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), chair of the House Transportation Committee and sponsor of the budget legislation, House Bill 2322, which passed the House 96-1 and the Senate 48-0. “Yet the pandemic may have a bigger impact on the transportation budget than the initiative.”
The final outcome of the legal challenge to Initiative 976 won’t be known until the state Supreme Court makes a ruling, Fey said.
In the new budget, there’s full funding for the green transportation initiatives put forth in Fey’s previous legislation, House Bill 2042, which was designed to move Washington state toward cleaner, more sustainable ways of moving people and goods. That funding includes $600,000 for Washington State University to give technical assistance to public agencies making the switch, $12 million in capital grants to transit agencies and a sales tax break for new and used electric vehicles.
The budget also protects rural transit agencies and special needs transportation services from what would have been devastating cuts due to the passage of Initiative 976.
Now the projects funded by the transportation budget will be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, Fey said. It’s unknown how much of the spring and summer construction season might be lost.
“Ferries use and revenue is down about 45 percent,” Fey said. “Tolling revenues are down between 50 to 80 percent, depending on the location. And that’s a good indicator of how much people are driving and what’s happening to gas tax revenue, which is the biggest funding source for the transportation budget.”
Along with construction projects, the state Department of Transportation is putting on hold a significant amount of maintenance and preservation work until the pandemic is over.
“We will work together with fellow lawmakers in the House and Senate, the governor, the Department of Transportation and other stakeholders to get Washington state through this crisis,” Fey said. “And when the pandemic ends, important work will begin again to improve and modernize our transportation system in every corner of the great state of Washington.”