Washington Advisory Vote 39, Aircraft Fuel Tax Increase Nonbinding Question (2022)

Advisory votes in Washington State allow voters to weigh in directly on tax increases passed by the legislature. These non-binding measures, required by Initiative 960 approved in 2007, give the public a voice on fiscal policies enacted in Olympia. The most recent such vote, Advisory Vote 39, concerned a proposed hike in taxes on aircraft fuel.

On November 8, 2022, voters decisively rejected the tax increase passed earlier in the year by state lawmakers. The outcome provides guidance to legislators as they shape future aviation tax policies and consider changes to the state budget. Advisory Vote 39 also continues the trend of voters being skeptical of higher taxes, even for dedicated purposes like transportation funding.

Senate Bill 5974 Raised Aircraft Fuel Tax to 18 Cents Per Gallon

During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5974 which increased the aircraft fuel tax from 11 cents to 18 cents per gallon. Set to take effect on July 1, 2023, this tax hike was projected to generate approximately $14 million in its first decade to fund a variety of state expenditures.

Aviation gasoline and jet fuel were both impacted by SB 5974. The legislation also reduced the preferential aircraft fuel tax rate for scheduled air carriers serving rural airports. With bipartisan sponsorship, the measure passed the Democratic-controlled legislature and was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee in March 2022.

Advisory Vote Allowed Public Input on Controversial Tax Increase

According to the provisions of Initiative 960, the aircraft fuel tax hike triggered Advisory Vote 39 on the statewide November 2022 ballot. This gave voters a direct say on the legislature’s fiscal actions. The advisory vote ballot measure read:

The legislature increased, without a vote of the people, the tax on aircraft fuel from 11 cents to 18 cents per gallon, costing $14 million in its first ten years, for government spending. This tax increase should be: [] Repealed [] Maintained

By law, the ten-year cost estimate had to be included on the ballot as well. While non-binding, the advisory vote was an important opportunity for the public to provide input before the tax hike took effect.

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Minimal Campaigning on Both Sides of Aircraft Fuel Tax Measure

Unlike many contentious statewide ballot propositions, the aircraft fuel tax advisory vote did not spur organized campaigns or heavy advertising. Aviation interest groups made their positions clear, but没有 neither side raised significant funding or mounted voter outreach efforts. With little media coverage of Advisory Vote 39, there was minimal public debate shaping opinions.

Opponents focused on the tax burden for general aviation, characterized as an unnecessary increase when fuel costs were already high. Pilot and aviation associations recommended a “repeal” vote to push back against the rate hike. Some labeled it an “unfair tax on aviation” that would negatively impact rural airports.

Supporters considered it a modest adjustment providing needed revenue. Environmental groups noted increased fees for air travel made sense given the carbon emissions involved. The lack of active campaigning left voters to make up their minds based primarily on their default positions on taxes rather than advocacy surrounding the specific proposal.

Voters Strongly Rejected the Aircraft Fuel Tax Increase

When ballots were counted on Election Night 2022, the results showed voters heeded opponents’ calls to repeal the tax hike. With turnout over 50 percent, the advisory vote outcome provided a clear signal of public opposition to the legislature’s action on aircraft fuel.

Statewide, nearly 59 percent voted to repeal the tax increase, while just 41 percent wanted to see it maintained. Majorities in 36 of 39 counties preferred repeal, with only King, Jefferson, and San Juan counties voting narrowly to uphold the fuel tax hike. Geographically, repeal was strongest in central and eastern parts of the state.

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A map of results by county shows repeal of the aircraft fuel tax hike passing decisively across much of Washington.

This lopsided outcome echoed similar advisory votes in which voters tended to reject tax increases proposed by the legislature. Since 2012, 28 of 39 such measures resulted in repeal recommendations from voters. Advisory Vote 39 followed this pattern of skepticism, with taxpayers reluctant to allow higher fees even for a dedicated purpose like aviation infrastructure.

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Implications of Defeat for Taxes, Revenue, and Aviation Priorities

The rejection of the aircraft fuel tax increase in Advisory Vote 39 holds several key implications looking ahead:

  • No change to status quo – With voters advising against the hike, the legislature will maintain the existing 11 cent per gallon rate absent action to change it. This avoids increased fees for aviation interests and taxpayers.
  • $14 million less revenue collected over decade – Projected proceeds from the tax hike will not materialize, leaving less funding available for transportation and other priorities. Lawmakers may revisit aviation fees in the future to generate equivalent revenue.
  • Future tax proposals require public buy-in – Another legislative tax increase parece unthinkable without more effort to convince voters of the need. The success of any hike may require dedicating funds to popular programs.
  • Divergent views on tax and fee policies – An urban-rural split was evident in the voting results, signaling differing perspectives across the state on taxes. Lawmakers will need to balance these viewpoints.
  • Ongoing debate over aviation infrastructure needs – With the fuel tax unchanged, debate will continue regarding how to fund airport projects, congestion management, and other aviation capital priorities.

Overall, Advisory Vote 39 maintained the status quo on aircraft fuel taxes but highlighted challenges in forging consensus on fiscal policies, especially tax increases opposed by voters. The repeal recommendation gives lawmakers guidance to chart a course aligned with taxpayer priorities.

Next Steps for Legislature on Taxes and Allowing Public Input

With voters clearly advising against the aircraft fuel tax hike passed in SB 5974, legislators will need to reassess their approach during the 2023 session. Here are several key next steps for Olympia:

  • Maintain 11 cent rate – Honor the advisory vote repeal by retaining existing aviation fuel taxes without passing a change. This keeps a commitment to voters.
  • Explore alternative funding mechanisms – Identify options to generate revenue for transportation programs without higher broad-based taxes, such as user fees, tolls, or public-private partnerships.
  • Involve public earlier in process – Discuss major tax proposals publicly and allow input before passage to avoid another advisory vote rejection. Improve transparency.
  • Learn from Advisory Vote 39 outcome – Analyze the lopsided result to understand voter priorities better when evaluating tax increases. Incorporate lessons learned.
  • Evaluate effectiveness of advisory votes – Study whether the I-960-required measures are achieving their intended purpose or require reform after over a decade.
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Advisory Vote 39 reiterated public skepticism of tax increases passed without sufficient input. As legislatorる look to align their fiscal policies with this feedback, promising paths include enhancing public engagement, limiting broad tax hikes, and finding innovative funding streams supported by taxpayers.

Conclusion: Advisory Vote Signals Desire for Restraint on Taxes

November 2022’s clear voter rejection of an aircraft fuel tax increase through Advisory Vote 39 sent a strong message to state lawmakers to exercise caution before enacting higher taxes opposed by the public. While non-binding, the advisory vote provided definitive guidance for legislators to either repeal the passed hike or face political consequences.

With almost 60 percent voting for repeal, taxpayers made their preferences clear. The vote continued a trend from past years of voters pushing back against taxes increased without their direct input. Advisory Vote 39 demonstrated that policies like the aircraft fuel tax that raise revenue broadly tend to garner skepticism.

Going forward, the legislature would be wise to thoroughly consult the public on major fiscal changes, limit broad-based tax hikes, and pursue more creative, crowd-supported funding mechanisms. Voter reluctance to maintain the Aviation fuel tax adjustment likely reflects deeper concerns about taxes outpacing wages and inflation. Regardless of the specific industry or program impacted, Advisory Vote 39 expressed a desire for greater restraint in raising taxes.


Q: What was Washington Advisory Vote 39?

A: Advisory Vote 39 was a non-binding ballot measure in November 2022 allowing voters to approve or repeal an aircraft fuel tax increase passed by the legislature earlier in the year.

Q: How did the vote break down?

A: With 58.9% voting to repeal the tax hike and 41.1% to maintain it, voters chose overwhelmingly to reject the fuel tax increase.

Q: What did a vote to ‘maintain’ mean?

A: A ‘maintain’ vote signaled approval of the legislature’s tax hike on aircraft fuel from 11 cents to 18 cents per gallon expected to generate $14 million over 10 years.

Q: What happens now that voters chose to repeal the tax increase?

A: The legislature will now maintain the existing 11 cent tax rate per gallon absent any future action to raise the aviation fuel taxes.

Q: Why do these advisory votes happen in Washington?

A: They are required by Initiative 960, approved in 2007, which mandates public votes on any tax increase passed by the legislature before it can take effect.

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