Oregon Gov. Brown to Inslee: Put the idea of a fuel tax "back on the shelf"

Source: The Seattle Times Opinion - February 22, 2022



As the governor of Oregon, I know that my decisions don’t just impact my constituents — what we do in Oregon also has an impact on the people who live and work north of the Columbia River. Every day, Oregonians and Washingtonians cross our shared border for work, commerce and recreation. Our communities, our economies and our peoples are linked.

That’s why, if Washington leaders are advancing a policy that impacts the working families on our side of the river without benefit, I expect, at the very least, the common courtesy of a phone call.

Unfortunately, no one in Washington state consulted with me or my office before bringing forward the shortsighted tax increase on fuel exported to Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. In Oregon, more than 90% of our fuel is refined in Washington. A tax increase of even a few cents could place an unreasonable burden on Oregonians, who are already facing the same pain at the gas pump as people in Washington.

Let me be clear: Oregon will not stand for taxation levied by Washington leaders with no consultation with our state government, our business community or our residents. Taxes on interstate commerce such as this are of questionable legality, and if Washington moves forward with implementing this proposal, legal challenges will undoubtedly be brought forward.

In states across the country, drivers pay gas taxes to maintain the roads, bridges and infrastructure in their home states. That’s why exported fuel has been — and should remain — exempt from Washington state’s gas tax. Under this new proposal, Oregonians will pay twice: to maintain transportation infrastructure here at home, and in Washington. A tax like this undermines the spirit of partnership we have been committed to for decades, to the mutual benefit of both our states.

Oregon and Washington do share many important pieces of infrastructure — the Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Project, for example, and the Bridge of the Gods. Our states have an enormous opportunity to partner on once-in-a-lifetime investments to build better connections between our people and places. Now is the time to come together, not come apart.

Washington leaders have touted this year’s transportation package as a significant step forward in addressing climate change and advancing equity. We share common goals of building a greener, equitable and more sustainable transportation system. But we must work toward those goals collaboratively, as we have historically, not with punitive proposals like this one.

Our two states have worked together to craft cost-sharing agreements and bi-state entities to finance shared transportation projects — and it is not an understatement to say those agreements have taken decades to finalize. That process of compromise involved extensive consultation with the business communities and community organizations in both our states. Oregonians have often stepped up to pay their share of costs for mutually beneficial projects because we understand the value for our economy, infrastructure and people.

Now, though, Oregon businesses and families are being asked to pay Washington taxes to help fund Washington’s share of these joint projects. That is not what Oregonians agreed to — and it puts into jeopardy the carefully balanced agreements that our residents and businesses have supported so far. It is shortsighted for Washington leaders to throw away decades of hard work and compromise by pursuing a quick fix for this year’s transportation package.

There is a better way. Washington’s coffers are awash with federal money, with more federal infrastructure dollars on the way — more than enough for lawmakers to find another way to finance their transportation package for this year. In Oregon, we cherish our strong partnerships with our neighbors in the Pacific Northwest. Continued collaboration between our states will always lead to better outcomes for Washington and Oregon alike.

So, Gov. Inslee, and Washington legislators, I am imploring you: put this bad idea back on the shelf, where it belongs. Let’s figure out a better way, together.


Kate Brown, governor of Oregon

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