Seattle Times on education, transportation, and Inslee’s budget proposal

Education and transportation look to be main areas of work for the Legislature in the upcoming session. Over the weekend, the Seattle Times had a few interesting items on these topics, in light of Gov. Inslee’s 2015-17 budget proposal.

First, regarding the governor’s transportation plan, the paper points to a letter from state Treasurer Jim McIntire (written before the governor released his plan) that outlines some principles for transportation funding projects. They include:

  • “No more than 50 percent of MVFT revenues should be pledged to bond finance.”
  • “Maintenance and preservation activities should receive first priority for new funds not obligated to bond finance projects. Credit markets do pay attention to how we maintain existing assets.”
  • “Maximize the use of tolls and other user fees. At a minimum, the Legislature should adopt legislation as soon as possible to toll the I-90 bridge to pay for $1.1 billion of the $1.4 billion cost of the west side of the 520 Corridor Project.”
  • “Any new revenue source should be 18th amendment protected so that it can backstop new MVFT-bonds over time and help finance new projects as MVFT revenues decline.”

The Times article notes that

As of 2016, a full 70 percent of the state’s gas-tax proceeds, or close to $700 million yearly, will be paying off Washington State Department of Transportation’s current projects. Various proposals in Olympia this year have suggested using 80, 90, even 100 percent of the gas tax to finance more construction bonds.

Additionally,

McIntire said gas taxes have become so unreliable that they’re hard to forecast for more than two quarters into the future — so there had better be a big cushion in a 25-year bond term.

The second notable item is an editorial: “Inslee’s budget goals are good; approach is risky.” While saying Inslee “shows leadership in not fully funding Initiative 1351,” the editorial board writes that

Inslee’s budget proposal also does not remedy the Supreme Court’s fundamental objection in the McCleary ruling: The state is off-loading its paramount duty to basic education onto local school levies. . . .

New education investments — from birth to post-doctorate level — also must come with strings requiring better outcomes for students. There is not enough of that in Inslee’s budget.

And, on the governor’s cap-and-trade proposal:

But linking revenue from a new cap-and-trade regime to education funding is risky. If it falls apart, or is delayed, education investments would be threatened.

It is also unclear what impact his cap-and-trade plan would have on a still-recovering state economy, one that is humming for citizens who live and work within sight of the Space Needle, but sputtering elsewhere.