Jordan Royer has a great piece at Crosscut today calling for the repeal of the 18th Amendment to Washington’s constitution—which requires that taxes collected from cars and gasoline are used for “highway use” exclusively—so that the state’s transportation systems aren’t stuck in the last century. I have called for the same thing in the last several months. But Washington should go one step further.
Royer was on the scene for the arguments before the Washington State Supreme Court over whether Interstate 90 across Lake Washington can have light rail. Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman thinks not. Freeman’s argument is based on economics—more shoppers driving to spend their dollars at far flung exurban malls—and the 18th Amendment. Personally, I don’t think he’s going to win. But I’m not a lawyer. Why take this kind of chance with our region’s future? Getting rid of the 18th Amendment would be great insurance against transit-busting law suits.
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But it is likely that even with repeal of the amendment, state and local politicians will continue to widen the Sustainability Gap—the difference between their words and deeds on sustainability—by talking big on reduced vehicle miles traveled (VMT) but building huge highway projects.
To lock in the future, Washington might need to do more than repeal the 18th Amendment. It’s crazy that Washington is pursuing reduced VMT while having a financing system that essentially requires building more roads. And it isn’t just tax revenue; the vast majority of Washington’s borrowing—debt—is for building roads and highways. From the moment a highway is built, it starts costing tax-payers money and promoting driving.
So why not require that until there is measurable progress on reducing VMT, no tax dollars that come from automobiles go toward “highway use?” This extra step would put Washington on better footing to resist efforts to build more highways and allow investments in infrastructure that supports walking, biking, and riding rather than driving.