NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 2, 2009

In February 2007, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) signed an executive order mandating the reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in Washington.  Within a month, the state created the Climate Advisory Team (CAT) and issued a set of recommendations to accomplish the required reductions, says Michael Ennis, director of the Washington Policy Center's Center for Transportation.

In the transportation sector, a person's driving is measured by calculating the number of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT):

  • The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) estimated that Washington motorists drove about 58.5 billion miles in 2008.
  • By 2020, the WSDOT expects VMT will rise to about 75 billion miles.

CAT recommends that the government reduce VMT by 18 percent by 2020, 30 percent by 2035 and 50 percent by 2050.  If the state is able to reduce driving by its citizens by 18 percent by 2020, VMT will fall to about 61.5 billion miles per year.  The state's policy is to reduce how much people drive to 22 miles per day by 2035.

This recommendation, along with other provisions was ultimately adopted by the state legislature.  However, a study on its effects found that the mandate threatens revenue:

  • If the state is able to achieve the first phase of the VMT reduction targets it will reduce the state's fuel tax revenue stream by about 10.2 percent by 2020.
  • This reduction could jeopardize funding for other projects, including the $2.4 billion in state fuel tax collections set aside for the Seattle Viaduct.
  • A policy of reducing VMT for drivers, while simultaneously adopting widespread tolling as a primary revenue stream that relies on driving, guarantees the state will fail at one or the other.

Not only does the state's mandate to reduce drivers' VMT cause fuel tax revenues to fall (revenues actually peak in 2014) and based on the state's long term reduction targets, never recover, says Ennis.

Source: Michael Ennis, "State's Mandate to Reduce Driver Mobility Threatens Revenue for Transportation Projects," Washington Policy Center, January 2009.


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