Possible gas tax uses for Point Roberts to expand?


A bill that would expand the possible uses of the local 1¢/gallon gas tax is sitting on Governor Jay Inslee’s desk awaiting his signature as of March 27. The Senate bill was sponsored (in part) by District 42 Senator Sharon Shewmake and was written in such a way that it only applies to Point Roberts.

The amendment states “a border area jurisdiction not directly connected to the continental United States may use the proceeds … for transportation improvements as defined in RCW 36.73.015.” Blaine and Sumas, for example, jurisdictions which also have a border gas tax would not be able to take advantage of the expanded uses made possible by the amended RCW.

The gas tax was originally approved back in 1992 by voters living close to the Canadian border and was intended to address the impact of high-volume border crossing traffic. The funds raised were limited to street maintenance and construction. The amended law is designed to include transportation improvements more broadly.

From the beginning, residents have been stymied by the limitations imposed upon gas tax expenditures. Whatcom County Council is the governing authority in approving expenditures and historically has been loath to step beyond the lines imposed by the law Authorizing the planting of roadside flower beds on Tyee Drive has so far been the most adventurous approval council has taken.

Last year, the Point Roberts Citizen Advisory Committee proposed that the county use some of the approximately $1,000,000 sitting unused on a Point-wide drainage study. That suggestion was nixed by the county prosecutor’s office who determined that would be an improper use. Transportation improvements as defined in RCW 36.73.015 will now govern use of the money.

However, it’s not exactly clear how Point Roberts will benefit from the change. Under the definition contained in RCW 36.73.015, transportation improvements refers only to projects of state or regional importance; it’s hard to see how a drainage study of Point Roberts, for example, is of regional or state significance.

Speaking at the Point Roberts Taxpayers Association’s monthly meeting on March 14, association president Mark Robbins said, “The big question is, can we actually go beyond street maintenance and construction and whether we would have to get approval from voters beyond what they approved back in 1991.” According to Robbins, the county has not yet weighed in on the matter.


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