Capitol Dispatch is a weekly political report focusing on the actions of our local representatives during the 2022 legislative session. It will run every Sunday during the session.
Senator Jeff Wilson is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee. Rep. Jim Walsh serves on the House Transportation Committee. Between the two chambers, they saw the two major transportation spending programs.
The House committee met five days in a row to consider the two major funding measures and a set of smaller bills. The big spending issues are the normal incremental changes to add projects to the current 2021-2023 biennial budget and the new Move Ahead Washington transportation package.
Walsh said the budget supplements were “good but not great” and had some bipartisan conversation. Move Ahead WA, however, has become a much more polarized bill, especially when it comes to proposed ways to generate revenue for the $16 billion list of improvements.
“The state is doing something that any freshman political science student could tell you is wrong,” Walsh said.
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The transportation package would install a 6-cent-per-gallon tax on oil that Washington supplies to other states, namely Alaska, Idaho and Oregon, which is expected to bring in about $2 billion. The idea was immediately criticized by all three state governments on grounds of fairness and fear that it violated the interstate commerce clause of the US Constitution.
Governor Kate Brown and top Democrats and Republicans in the Oregon Legislature sent a joint letter Friday afternoon urging Washington to scrap the fuel export tax. The letter warned that likely legal battles over the tax could jeopardize work being done by both states on the Interstate 5 bridge.
“We could have avoided this issue if Democrats had shared a communication and left the door open for others to shape this package before it went to print,” Wilson said.
Walsh said he and Rep. Andrew Barkis, a minority member of the transportation committee, floated the idea of replacing the gas tax with the state sales tax on cars and trucks, which is now entering in the general operating budget. Walsh pointed out that a one-time transfer of similar funds was already included in the proposed supplements to the transport budget.
property tax billsWalsh introduced two bills Wednesday in an attempt to keep the tax relief conversation going in the Legislature and through the rest of the year.
House Bill 2125 would require state property taxes to be calculated based on 75% of the value of the land, instead of the full assessment.
House Bill 2126 would be a less permanent change but a more radical change. The bill seeks to completely eliminate the state property tax levy in the year 2023, after which taxes would revert to their current rates.
With the short legislative session scheduled to end on March 10 and no public hearing announced, neither bill has a real chance of being passed this year. Walsh said he hopes the two measures will play more of a role in shaping future discussions on tax rates and tax reform.
“A miracle could happen and something could give them traction this session, but really they’re supposed to set the frame for the conversation in the meantime and for the next session,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s bills were not the only last-minute attempt at tax reform by the 19th District. Wilson tried to use Friday’s Senate debate on the supplementary operating budget to bring back a defeated bill that would eliminate the trade and business tax for manufacturers. The amendment was rejected.