WA public transit agencies spent $12.6 billion in last five years

April 12, 2012

King County Executive Dow Constantine wants drivers to pay even higher taxes and fees to not only reinvest in the roads they drive on, but to also subsidize mass transit.

In a statement released yesterday, Constantine says the following,

"Despite having the votes and bipartisan support for 'local-option' bills to allow counties to ask voters for desperately-needed transit and road revenues, lawmakers failed to bring those bills to the floor.

The bills would have created local options for cities and counties to raise transportation related taxes and fees. With the exception of the gas tax, those taxes and fees would have been used to subsidize mass transit.

There are two big problems with Constantine’s argument. Public transit is not underfunded and the new taxes and fees would have been unfairly paid by a single user group; drivers.

All transportation taxes and fees paid by drivers should be used for highway purposes only, while alternative travel modes should be funded by their own users (which reduces the public subsidy) or through local options that apply to the general public, like sales taxes.

The state already cannot keep pace with funding its current transportation infrastructure needs; infrastructure needs that serve the majority of daily person-trip demand. Any new transportation revenue source at the state level should be used to pay for existing obligations or to expand highway capacity; it should not be diverted to new commitments, such as public transit.

Furthermore, transit is not underfunded in Washington state. There are 31 public transit agencies in Washington and they collected $2.05 billion in total revenues in 2010. To put this in perspective, the state only collected about $1.2 billion in total gas taxes in 2010. In the last five years alone, public transit has spent $12.6 billion! This is remarkable when you consider that so-called “mass” transit only carries about 2.4% of all daily person trip demand statewide.

Moreover, Constantine is wrong to say the legislature had the votes to pass these bills. In a recent Everett Herald article, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee Senator Mary Margaret Haugen said, "There are just not the votes…There was just general heartburn among members. It was just too heavy a lift."

The legislature does have the votes to pass a transportation funding bill…even a significant one. But lawmakers must recognize who is paying for what and fund existing obligations, not create new ones!

Read more from our full series on a responsible transportation funding plan: