Oregon Republicans threaten to walk away from I-5 expansion if Washington fuel tax moves forward

I-5 near Marine Drive in north Portland.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

When Interstate Bridge Replacement program administrator Greg Johnson was briefing the project’s equity advisory group earlier this week about the negotiations over a transportation package in Washington State, he told them the IBR was not “at the center” of those negotiations. By midweek, though, the highway project had been thrust directly into that center by several Oregon Republicans.

“If the majority party in Washington thought we would turn a blind eye when they force us to pay for their roads, they are mistaken.”
— Shelly Boshart Davis, Oregon House member (R-Albany)

The $16.8 billion, 16-year “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package currently working its way through the Washington legislature includes a number of new funding sources, including expected revenue over nearly two decades from the state’s new cap-and-invest climate law and a $2 billion transfer from the state’s general fund. It also includes a newly proposed 6 cent tax on exported fuel. That tax now has Republicans in Oregon threatening to walk away from the IBR’s negotiating table, joining a small chorus of voices from outside Washington pushing back on the proposal.

“If the majority party in Washington thought we would turn a blind eye when they force us to pay for their roads, they are mistaken,” Representative Boshart Davis (R-Albany) noted in a press release sent Wednesday titled “Republicans will walk away from Interstate Bridge Replacement program talks if Washington’s tax on Oregonians passes”. Boshart Davis also referred to the idea as “offensive” at a hearing for the bill last week. Senator Lynn Findley (R-Eastern Oregon) also quoted in the release, saying that “Republicans will not stand by and let Washington raise the cost-of-living for our residents without a fight.” Boshart Davis and Findley are among the only Oregon Republicans on the joint legislative committee that will ultimately sign off on the design of the highway expansion and bridge project.

Washington Democrats have defended the idea of a fuel export tax, calling it a way to capture funds to account for some of the negative impacts that come as a result of Washington’s five fuel refineries, which produce 90% of the fuel used in Oregon. Jake Fey, chair of the Washington House transportation committee, represents a district with one of those refineries. “We bear the brunt for the environmental impacts that are created by having the refineries here in the state,” he has said.

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Perhaps multimodal transportation and environmental advocates would be happy to see Oregon Republicans make good on their threat to walk away from discussions around the IBR.

Whether the fuel tax is actually proposed to pay for projects that reduce the burden of those environmental impacts is up for debate. The transportation package invests more in transit, walking, and biking infrastructure than any other package in the state’s history, but that’s largely attributable to the cap-and-invest bill Democrats passed last year, which will raise over $5 billion over 16 years that by law must go toward projects that reduce transportation emissions. The other funding sources in the package, including the fuel tax, will go toward traditional highway projects: more maintenance and preservation funding than the state has seen in recent years, but also expansion projects like the IBR.

Paulo Nunes-Ueno, Transportation Lead for Front and Centered, a statewide coalition of communities of color-led groups, said of the package, “This is a step in the right direction. But this transportation package still sticks frontline communities with the bill for our addiction to oil and autos – a price we pay sometimes with our lives.” Climate action group 350 Seattle calculated the impact of the additional highway capacity via the induced demand calculator created by the Rocky Mountain Institute and says it could add up to 1 billion vehicle miles traveled per year.

Which is to say, perhaps multimodal transportation and environmental advocates would be happy to see Oregon Republicans make good on their threat to walk away from discussions around the IBR. So far, the fight against an IBR project that expands the highway for miles on each side of the border has largely taken place on the Oregon side, with many Portland-area advocacy orgs united in their desire to see a project that does not increase the number of lanes on I-5. Republicans on the Washington side are plenty unhappy about the export tax proposal as well, though we haven’t seen any threaten to walk away from the negotiating table of a project that most see as essential to accommodating growth in their districts.

Ultimately, without a transportation package in Washington, the project most likely is dead. A defeat of the overall package would be a complete repeat of what happened in 2013 with the cancellation of the Columbia River Crossing project. But here it looks much less likely, with Democrats in Washington all united behind the Move Ahead Washington proposal. On Wednesday, the senate transportation committee adopted an amendment to the biennial transportation budget allocating $200 million for the IBR project, with a stated intent that the legislature will ultimately chip in $1.2 billion. The project is almost certainly moving forward, with or without a few Oregon Republicans.

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Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
4 months ago

Reason enough to move the fuel tax forward. Let’s go!!

ivan
ivan
4 months ago

* grabs popcorn *

David S.
David S.
4 months ago

Makes sense to me. Why is Washington starting a trade war? What’s next we start taxing exports of hazelnuts and Pinot noir?

Roberta Robles
Roberta Robles
4 months ago
Reply to  David S.

LOLZZZzzzzz . . . We should start taxing illegal exports of marijuana too. Oh wait that just means federal legalization and we know Biden is not keeping that promise. Anyhoo….

Sheesh…. Shelly Boshart-Davis is channeling trucker tornados.

Just sit down, please. We got her the inter-modal trucking station in Albany is about to open and the Scio/Jefferson interchange shut down has been shuttered for good.

Somebody please explain why we need Boshart-Davis input on the IBR? She is just going to trash all of the Portland Metro Transport goals for political points. Let her go, really its OK.

David S.
David S.
4 months ago
Reply to  Roberta Robles

Roberta,
Sorry but I’m dubious of your comments after your recent comment that was misleading about how you were critical of Sarah Inarone.

You said: “Sarah I. had this same sort of knee jerk policy response during her campaign. Cow-towed to a few screaming homelessness advocates in the back. I was disappointed when she announced her second mayoral candidacy.”
yet you were an effusive supporter and even were quoted praising her on her campaign website.

Chris I
Chris I
4 months ago
Reply to  David S.

The argument is that Washington residents bear the brunt of fossil fuel use in the NW. The communities around refineries deal with increased air and water pollution. The communities that see crude oil transport by rail are at risk of catastrophic derailments and fires.

Chris
Chris
4 months ago
Reply to  David S.

Maybe this is a backhanded way to raise funds for low income Washingtonians that will have to pay tolls to commute to jobs in Oregon? Except for the fact that Olympia/Seattle don’t pay attention to what happens in SW Washington.

Doug Allen
Doug Allen
4 months ago

Correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the new Washington tax only applies to states that have a lower gas tax than Washington. Oregon could raise our gas tax by 6 cents per gallon, and eliminate the Washington export tax for us. That could be good or bad, depending on what the revenue got spent on, but based on recent history, probably bad.

soren
4 months ago

1. Washington threatens to unilaterally raise the cost of SUV/Truck gasoline.
2. Oregon threatens to make it more difficult for Washingtonians to drive their gasoline-burning Truck/SUVs in OR.

This response illustrates just how SUV/Truck-centric the Oregon legislature is.

Chris I
Chris I
4 months ago

No. Wait. Please stop.

cmh89
cmh89
4 months ago

I’m really curious what the actual end game of this. The way the bill is written, the obvious choice for Oregon would be to just peg our state gas tax to Washingtons and not be hit by the tax. I guess we win but I don’t see what is in it for them. Maybe Idaho would rather just pay the extra taxes to Washington to make a point?

Of course Oregon could also lower registration fees to try and balance out the increased cost of fuel if they really wanted to try and make it tax neutral for our citizens.

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
4 months ago
Reply to  cmh89

Yes, but be aware of the fact that Washington State has hinted about raising their gas tax by .50 cents. Alaska is also affected by this tax. All the oil these refineries use is Alaska Crude so one might expect Alaska to add a tax to every barrel of oil going to Washington State. This would also increase the fuel cost here in Oregon. You might not care since you don’t drive, but it will increase the cost of goods and other services. It will also increase the cost of building roads and bike paths. This could decrease the number of projects we see completed.

Bob Weinstein
Bob Weinstein
4 months ago

https://www.adn.com/politics/2022/02/21/washington-lawmakers-advance-tax-on-fuel-shipped-to-alaska-prompting-an-alaska-legislator-to-propose-counter-measures/

Washington state lawmakers advance tax on fuel shipped to Alaska, prompting an Alaska legislator to propose countermeasures

Keep in mind that Washington oil refineries get much or all of their oil from Alaska- some of which is then imported to Alaska as refined products and therefore subject to the proposed tax. Alaska legislators are now threatening to retaliate by adding a $15/barrel surcharge as well as other measures.

In my opinion, Washington legislators are using the impacts of refineries as an excuse to have nonresidents pay more than residents for transportation projects in Washington. The argument that Washington residents already pay a higher gas tax doesn’t wash with me anymore than if Oregon was doing something similar and claiming that Oregon has an income tax and Washington does not, so Washington residents should be subject to some tax increase, etc.

Chris
Chris
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob Weinstein

It will depend on how the money is used. I think it would be somewhat fair if a portion of the money is used to improve rail safety and other improvements around the oil refineries.

In a way Oregon has already does that with their income tax. If Washington had an income tax those working in Oregon would probably pay less in income tax to the state of Oregon. The federal government allows a portion of the sales tax paid to be written off of the income tax paid to the feds, but I don’t believe Oregon has that write off.

There has been a constant push back and forth to require Oregonians to pay sales tax in Washington and then file a form at the end of the year to recoup sales taxes paid over a certain amount. That hasn’t passed yet due to the fear that Washington businesses wouldn’t be able to compete with those in Oregon.

James Calhoon
James Calhoon
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Yes it did pass and went into effect July 1 2019.
https://dor.wa.gov/taxes-rates/retail-sales-tax/sales-nonresidents

Racer X
Racer X
4 months ago

Please Oregon…build your own fossil refineries OR don’t buy WA refined fuel products (so then WA can retire 1 or 2 of these refineries)…or raise your gas tax as others have mentioned.

Or you could sneak over the border and shop in Vancouver/ Clark…and show the Washington legislature that they cannot control independent Oregonians who love freedom above all else.