Businesses and labor groups urge support of 18th Amendment

By MARIYA FROST  | 
Jan 21, 2021
BLOG

A broad coalition of businesses, labor groups, and associations, including Washington Policy Center, have urged lawmakers that “if a Road Usage Charge (RUC) is enacted, any revenues [should] include protection under the 18th Amendment to the Washington State Constitution.”

The 18th Amendment protects certain revenue, like the gas tax, for highway spending only. As the letter points out, “The legislature has a long history of sweeping funds for other uses and the constitutional protection is the gold standard in ensuring drivers that those dollars are not at risk.”

The RUC is a per-mile charge being studied by the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) and is intended to replace the gas tax. Therefore, it should replicate the features of a gas tax, including how the money is dedicated and spent. The letter echoes this basic principle.

Signees include the Association of Washington Business (AWB), Washington Trucking Association, AAA, United Parcel Service (UPS), Food Northwest, Washington Building Trades, Kemper Development, Spokane International Airport, and many others.

Washington Policy Center was happy to sign on to the letter as well, as ensuring 18th amendment protection for any potential RUC has been a long-standing recommendation of ours. We have highlighted for over three years the importance of the 18th amendment in making sure that any new road-use tax is a user fee like the state gas tax is. We have also warned of the political opposition lawmakers would face in trying to protect RUC money for roads alone.

Sure enough, in 2019, several Seattle and King County transit and environmental advocates made their views on the 18th amendment very clear, saying it should be discarded and asking that RUC revenue remain flexible for public officials to fund transit and “foster better environmental outcomes.” Despite this, the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) rightly voted in support of 18th amendment protection as a formal recommendation to the legislature.

AWB's coalition letter submitted to the House and Senate Transportation committees contains significantly more support for the 18th amendment than anything we have seen in opposition.

As the debate around a Road Usage Charge continues, it will ultimately be up to lawmakers to consider and apply the recommendations of the Commission as well as the input they have and will continue to receive from citizens and coalitions like this.