Update: Moving Ahead Washington Transportation Package

It was another busy legislative week for transportation. Last Saturday morning, things in the Transportation Package went from bad to worse for local government.

Over the weekend there was a substantial change proposed by the Chair of the House Transportation Committee, Representative Fey, for how to fund the Move Ahead Washington Transportation Package (Package), which would negatively impact counties.

This amendment would remove the Export Fuel Tax from the Package and instead replace the lost revenue by continuing to divert Public Works Assistance Account (PWAA) revenues in the amount of $100 million over 15 years.

This was bad news for local government, as these funds were set to return to the PWAA in 2023, after over a decade of being diverted for other state purposes. On Tuesday evening, after much debate, the House of Representatives passed the PWAA amendment as part of their proposed Package and set things up to be worked out by House and Senate leadership in conference committee.

As most of you know, Counties are responsible for maintaining a variety of critical public facilities and infrastructure, and the PWAA, for nearly 40 years now, has served as a vital resource for local jurisdictions to get funding for the repair, replacement, and construction of sewer, water, solid waste, and other infrastructure projects.

This late-breaking idea, without even so much as a committee hearing, completely undermined the state-local partnership and caused WSAC and the Association of Cities (AWC) to consider opposing the Package altogether.

This proposal, coupled with our continued concerns regarding the lack of funding in the package for the preservation and maintenance of our county road and bridge system, kept us working throughout the week with our local government partners to keep the conversation going with legislators; hoping to both get them to move away from the Public Works Assistance Account diversion and increase funding for the County Road Administration Board (CRAB), Transportation Improvement Board (TIB), and the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board (FMSIB).

Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Transportation Committee Chair, Senator Marko Liias, released a different plan for backfilling the lost revenue from removing the proposed Export Fuel Tax from the Package; instead, utilizing transfers from the Model Toxic Control Account (MTCA) and then backfilling that transfer with revenue from the state Operating Budget. This is estimated to raise $1.8-2 billion for the Package over 16 years. We are also concerned that this proposal harms counties as we currently receive $24 million per biennium through the Department of Ecology for Local Solid Waste Financial Assistance (LSWFA) grants, which are critical to performing our statutory solid waste obligations.

LSWFA grant funding was cut from $28.6 million to only $10 million per biennium during the great recession. It was finally restored in 2021 (last year) to $24 million, still well below the historical levels. Our members worked for years to restore that funding. Without it, our programs were forced to raise fees (some up to 21%), cut staff, eliminate programs like recycling and education, and close facilities. If funding had kept up with only inflation, it should be nearly $35 million today.

So, where do things stand?

You might remember, last week the House Transportation Committee amended the proposed Supplemental Budget to include increased funding for CRAB and TIB. This amendment, while very modest compared to actual need, represents an increase of $18.7 million in the House Supplemental Budget for local preservation purposes and Complete Streets Grants.

While this was great news for counties at the time, unfortunately, we had to turn our efforts towards defending the PWAA. We must now return our focus back to getting these important additional resources agreed to by the Senate in conference committee.

Despite all of this, our goal remains to be able to support this legislation, however, the threat of these changes so late in the session has made it hard to see a path forward.

The Legislature must find significant ways to put resources back into the preservation and maintenance of local roads and bridges. There must be investments in this Package for local fish barrier removal projects and significant increases made to CRAB and TIB. We have also heard from Senate majority budget staff that LSWFA grants will likely continue to be funded by MTCA even after the transfer and we need to make sure that is the case.

We will continue to send updates as things develop.