The recent vote on Initiative 976, limiting the vehicle tab fee to $30, only echoes the displeasure of the traveling public. Washington state is the second highest in collecting gas tax at 49.4 cents per gallon of gas or diesel. Then you add in the federal gas tax and up it goes, and more so for diesel fuels.
You would think that would be enough to patch potholes and pave roads, but it’s not for many reasons. The first big reason is mass transit is like a 10-pound leach on a 2-pound fish. It uses funding that was intended for roads, not paying for buses and now very costly light rail. At one time in this country — including Astoria across the river — bus and train systems were for-profit private companies that made money. Then along comes the public sector, which offers up better service, more routes and more buses. The public, of course, says, "Yahoo, I like that," and we now have all local bus service as a public system. But it’s not at a profit; it runs at a loss, a big loss. To offset that loss, the taxpayer pays through several methods. One is diversion of gas tax funds, directly and indirectly.
I’m not saying public transportation is bad. It’s just one of those leaches taking away funds from road projects. Had mass transit been a voted upon with stand-alone tax, we would have been shocked at the cost. So to fund it, government dipped into gas tax. "What the heck? Roads don’t fall apart overnight" was the thinking.
But mass transit then dug up a bigger expenditure — light rail — which to be honest, serves a very small segment of our big-city population at a very high cost per mile — over three times as much as bus service. Just look at the Sounder light rail projects. Costs are going through the roof — almost now double from the initial estimate — and it’s not even under construction yet.
The other big leach to our gas tax is going forward with expensive projects like the tunnel "Big Bertha" dug along the Seattle waterfront, which again serves Seattle not Pacific County. But Pacific County drivers are helping pay for it. How so, you ask? Well, these big projects are funded by bonds, or what you and I would call a loan. The taxpayer is such a good risk, loans or bonds are sold like hot cakes. However, the down side is they need to be paid. Remember that 49.4 cents a gallon? Well, in 2018 the bondholders payment is at 49% of that amount. Roughly 25 cents a gallon is going toward bond payments. The Washington State Highway Commission in their own document estimates that by 2028, 74% of the gas tax will be eaten up in payments to bondholders. Bottom line is less money to actual projects and more to paying for projects already constructed.
I hope you can see the monster this state has created. Those roads out there are not going to fix themselves. Allowing more funding — in the form of higher vehicle tabs, a carbon tax and raising the gas tax — only feeds the insatiable appetite of uncontrolled spending on new more grand projects while ignoring the needs in rural Washington. It’s a slippery slope and Washington taxpayers are being pushed down that slope. Already, the wheels are turning to overturn I-976 in the courts. The I-976 vote put the brakes on some spending but the champions of grand projects want to march on, even over the objections of taxpayers.