In 2007 the Legislature passed a bill authorizing the Governor to enter into new fuel tax compacts with federally-recognized Tribes that operated fuel stations in Washington State. Since then these compacts have allowed tribes to undercut private fuel station operators give away needed revenue for roads harm taxpayers by allowing gas tax revenue to be spent on non-highway purposes and hurt non-tribal businesses by creating an unfair playing field among fuel station operators.
Those are among the findings in a Washington Policy Center brief on the compact (read full policy brief here).
Automotive United Trades Organization (AUTO) an organization of gas station operators filed suit over the compact and in August AGC on behalf of itself and several other construction associations filed an amicus brief in support of the suit. AGC and its construction industry partners were granted amicus standing in the case which is expected to be argued in the next six months.
AGC’s concern is the potential loss of millions of dollars in infrastructure funding – and the amount of the loss could grow considerably in the future should Tribal gas station operations continue to expand.
“If the Tribes were putting the money into roads and highways that would be one thing” says AGC Legislative Counsel Van Collins who authored the amicus brief. “But there’s great concern that is not happening. The compact between the Tribes and the Governor precluded any real transparency. There are no independent audits conducted regarding the use of the funds and even the minimal reports that the Tribes are supposed to provide to the Department of Licensing are not always forthcoming.”
AGC is concerned not just because of the loss of transportation-related dollars in an era of already diminishing transportation dollars but also because of the distrust the lack of transparency creates.
“Clearly the State Constitution says the gas tax revenues are to be used for transportation purposes and people expect that” says Collins. “Future efforts to increase transportation revenues could be thwarted if the general public loses confidence that the taxes are being spent as promised.”
AGC is not a party to the lawsuit but the amicus motion and brief it filed requests that the State Supreme Court accept direct review of AUTO’s appeal. Collins filed the motion and brief on behalf of AGC of Washington as well as fellow AGC chapters Inland Northwest and Oregon-Columbia and the local chapters of MCA NUCA ACEC ABC WAPA NECA and WACA. Other business groups have filed their own amicus motions and briefs including NFIB the Association for Washington Business Washington Oil Marketers Association and the Washington Policy Center.
For more information contact Van Collins 360-352-5000.