Opinion: It’s time for Washington lawmakers to stand up to their Oregon counterparts


Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance points out the hypocrisy of Oregon’s outrage over Washington’s proposed tax on refined fuels considering how Oregon continues to tax Southwest Washington residents

It is my sincere hope that legislators in Washington state have learned a valuable lesson over the past two weeks from their fellow lawmakers in Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. That lesson is, to borrow a sports analogy, the best defense is a good offense.

In 2019, the latest data available, 78,662 Clark County residents paid $251 million in Oregon state income taxes. An additional “other Washington” citizens paid $128.5 million to Oregon for a total of $379.5 million. File photo
In 2019, the latest data available, 78,662 Clark County residents paid $251 million in Oregon state income taxes. An additional “other Washington” citizens paid $128.5 million to Oregon for a total of $379.5 million. File photo
Editor Ken Vance
Editor Ken Vance

About a month ago, members of the Washington State Legislature began considering the largest transportation package in the state’s history. The $16.8 billion proposal, dubbed Move Ahead Washington, is the fourth transportation package in the past two decades being proposed by the legislature. Unlike previous transportation plans, this one did not propose to directly raise the gas tax on Washington residents. Instead, it would raise $2 billion by placing a 6 cent tax on refined fuels shipped to other states, including Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. It is estimated that Oregon gets 90 percent of its fuels from Washington refiners. There was also an 11 cent tax on jet fuel in the transportation package.

It took a week or two, but when the details of Move Ahead Washington began resonating with lawmakers in Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, legislators in those states started threatening Washington lawmakers with retaliation.

• The governors of all three states called Gov. Jay Inslee to strongly suggest that he stop the legislative proposal, or veto it if it landed on his desk. However, they quickly found out Washington’s governor supported the measure.

• Alaska Rep. Kevin McCabe introduced new taxes on crude oil exported from that state to Washington, plus a tax on fish and fishing boats. 

• Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke talked about Washington lawmakers extorting money from their neighbors. “Neighbors don’t do neighbors that way,” Bedke said. “We’re alarmed. We don’t think that friends and neighboring states should do each other this way, and we’re looking at all of our options.”

• Republican legislators in Oregon even threatened to walk away from the bipartisan committee to fund the I-5 Bridge replacement project. “Republicans will not stand by and let Washington raise the cost-of-living for our residents without a fight,” wrote Oregon Sen. Lynn P. Findley (Republican, Vale), a member of the Bi-state committee, in a news release. 

• Oregon Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis was so upset by the idea that she testified against the bill at a hearing in the Washington State Legislature. “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,” said Boshart Davis (Republican, Albany).

When Oregon lawmakers passed House Bill 2017 it included a proposal to tax Washington residents via the tolling process. File photo
When Oregon lawmakers passed House Bill 2017 it included a proposal to tax Washington residents via the tolling process. File photo

The lawmakers’ threats were very effective. On Saturday, House Transportation Chair Rep. Jake Fey (Democrat, Tacoma) proposed an amendment that would remove the export fuel tax from Move Ahead Washington. The proposed amendment will remove the export tax and replace it with an annual transfer from the Public Works Assistance Account. No projects will be eliminated from the package according to Fey. 

I will tell you, when I heard of the plan by Washington legislators to tax our neighbors, especially those to our south, I wasn’t the least bit concerned. Oregon has been taxing Washington residents for years. Honestly, I felt it was about time we leveled the playing field.

In 2019, the latest data available, 78,662 Clark County residents paid $251 million in Oregon state income taxes. An additional “other Washington” citizens paid $128.5 million to Oregon for a total of $379.5 million.

As if that wasn’t enough, when Oregon lawmakers passed House Bill 2017 it included a proposal to tax Washington residents via the tolling process. It specifically started the tolls “at the border” with Washington. Those plans continue with an eye to tax travelers on both I-5 and I-205 starting at the Columbia River and continuing south.

It specifically started the tolls “at the border” with Washington. Those plans continue with an eye to tax travelers on both I-5 and I-205 starting at the Columbia River and continuing south. File photo
It specifically started the tolls “at the border” with Washington. Those plans continue with an eye to tax travelers on both I-5 and I-205 starting at the Columbia River and continuing south. File photo

An example of the impact of these tolls was offered by Vancouver forensic accounting expert Tiffany Couch during the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) boondoggle. Couch estimated 60 percent of the $3.3 billion in total CRC toll-related revenues would be coming from Southwest Washington citizens. With an estimated 75,000 Clark County residents (pre-pandemic) commuting to Oregon for work, a majority of whom are not “rich,” but average and low income people, the tolls will harm the working poor the most. They would be creating, what Vancouver Councilor Bart Hansen calls “roads for the rich.”

In light of the events of the past two weeks, this begs the question. Why in the world aren’t Washington’s elected representatives pointing out this hypocrisy and expressing outrage to their Oregon counterparts for their unabashed and unapologetic propensity to pick the pockets of citizens on this side of the Columbia River?

If Washington lawmakers don’t begin addressing this imbalance, then they aren’t representing me. Washington legislators should immediately threaten to pull out of the discussion to replace the I-5 Bridge if Oregon lawmakers won’t agree to kill their plan to toll Washington drivers on I-5 and I-205. And for that matter, Washington legislators also shouldn’t be so passive in their reaction to Oregon lawmakers always insisting on including light rail on any I-5 Bridge replacement or the desire of Oregon’s elected representatives to change our behavior by allowing traffic congestion to get so bad that it eventually forces us out of cars.

And, the best way to do that is for Washington’s legislators to not pass the $16.8 billion Move Ahead Washington Plan in the days before the legislature is scheduled to end on March 10. The bill provides $1.2 billion in funds for the I-5 Bridge replacement. If the transportation package isn’t passed, that gives Washington’s elected officials time to get on equal footing with their Oregon counterparts, who to this point have been the bullies on the school yard when it comes to transportation issues.

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K.J. Hinton
7 months ago

I would whole heartedly support this tax if the revenue from Oregon was used to reimburse the people who have to pay Oregon income tax.

That way, the Oregon thugs could stop ripping people off from around here who work there. The state could even keep a half cent per gallon to cover costs.

philip johnson
philip johnson
6 months ago

Mr. Vance, are you saying that Washingtonians should get a better deal than Oregonians in Oregon? It would take quite the state government to tell its citizens that folks from Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California will be able to work in Oregon tax free. Of course residents from those four states don’t have to go to work in Oregon, if they don’t want to. In Clark county’s case being next to a large city that offers better wages, is a bummer for the county. However, it’s not a bummer for those who choose to receive better wages, but with those better wages comes the responsibility of the state that offers them.

Looking at all the income free tax states in the union, their citizens who work outside the state are subject to the accompanying states taxes, why should Washingtonians be any different? The “in” state to escape to now is Tennessee. I lived there for years and it is a very nice place to live, but it is surrounded by seven income taxing states. I don’t believe there is a hue and cry from Nashville, against Montgomery, Richmond or Jefferson City to give Tennesseans an income tax free job in their states. They seem to be working on getting Tennesseans jobs in Tennessee. Olympia would be wise to do the same for Washingtonians, but wisdom isn’t a hallmark in Olympia.

Finally conservatives, which this site claims as its values always says if you want more of something tax it less. Why would Salem want more Washington residents taking its jobs by offering them a tax free gig in Oregon? They do odd things in Oregon, but I don’t believe them to be that stupid.

pete
pete
6 months ago

I think an “excise tax” on refined products moving in interstate commerce (that also does not apply to citizens of the origin state) would have a good argument at being ruled “unconstitutional.” Indeed, the constitution was originally conceived to eliminate taxes and tariffs on commerce between the states (among many other things).

In contrast, the “tolling” that Oregon proposes is a “user tax” applied only to those who use Oregon’s roads. That does not cross the line as an unconstitutional tax. (I didn’t say it was fair.)

Of course, Oregon will “pay the price” for their planned, unfair tolls — I, for one, will simply avoid going to Oregon the the extent possible. (Perhaps Clark County should establish a regional airport.) Frankly, since Portland’s failure to maintain a reasonably safe environment, I have not gone to Portland for any shopping or cultural activities as I have in the past. I am unlikely to do so in the future, as well. (Ikea and other merchants might like to open a store on THIS side of the river.) Basically, I’m “done” with Oregon and Portland. I encourage others to consider doing so as well (to the extent that’s practical).

As for Washington, its legislature and its taxes, they should take a close look at all the ways our tax dollars are being squandered rather than trying to constantly increase taxes even though we have a budget surplus. I realize that legislators tend to want to spend every cent they can get their hands on … and it’s generally better if the don’t spend but let the private economy solve the problems — and only focus on those situations that government is truly the solution (and that is a MUCH smaller range of issues than our current legislature seems to think).

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