Washington State Dems Poised to Steal From Transit and Education to Appease Car Owners

Washington State Democrats are prepared to cut funding from education and transit to give more money to car owners. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Washington State Democrats are prepared to cut funding from education and transit to give more money to car owners. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a story that really speaks to the political clout of motorists.

Democrats in the state of Washington recently gained the majority in the State Senate and now control both arms of the state legislature. Tops on the their agenda: lowering taxes on drivers. They’re so motivated to do it, they’re willing to steal from transit riders and homeless students in the process.

At issue are fees on car ownership in the Seattle region that voters approved in 2016 to support a $53 billion transit improvement package. Despite the outcome of the vote, Democrats are raring to reduce the fees to appease car owners.

A version that passed the House of Representatives would cost Sound Transit about $2 billion. Senate Democrats decided to ease the impact on transit by exempting the agency from $518 million in sales tax. But that sales tax revenue was earmarked for schools, reports The Stranger’s Heidi Grover, including an educational program for homeless kids.

The legislative session ends tomorrow. Owen Pickford at the Urbanist says it’s not too late to kill the bill as it heads to conference committee.

In 2015, Democrats compromised with Republicans by passing a $15 billion, unneeded highway expansion so that the Sound Transit 3 package (ST3) could get a chance to be on the ballot. ST3 was passed overwhelmingly. Shortly after approving the ballot measure, right-wing, anti-tax media stoked outrage about car tabs. Despite this, Democrats won a special election by a large margin, giving them control of the entire state government. Flash forward to today and state Democrats only have until March 8th to pass legislation. Despite this short timeframe, they’ve decided cutting car tab fees is their priority. These cuts will blow a huge $2 billion-plus-sized hole in transit funding. Rather than backfilling that hole with anything (a capital gains tax perhaps?), state Democrats decided to take money from education funding that could help homeless kids. The $518 million from the education fund sounds like a lot but since it’s a backloaded source that won’t come in until projects are constructed while car tab fees are frontloaded and collected now, it won’t help as much as it sounds.

Governor Jay Inslee, meanwhile, has not signaled whether he intends to sign the bill. The way things are shaping up, Democrats will be asking him to bend to car owners at the expense of education and transit.

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