The $10 billion dollar transportation package announced by Democrats in Olympia yesterday uses familiar methods to raise money for road projects in the state but adds in a few new ones as well. However, the ambitious plan does not include ways to raise the $1.4 billion needed to finish paying off the rebuild of the SR-520 bridge.
State Transportation Committee chair, Rep. Judy Clibborn, spoke to the businesses and the media yesterday about the package, called Connecting Washington.
“The Connecting Washington package will link the communities of our state to each other and to the rest of the world,” said Clibborn. “From the child going to school each day to the farmer whose crops travel through our ports to markets abroad, this package is about the infrastructure and jobs that will bring Washingtonians together.”
Funding sources proposed include an increase of 10 cents for car tabs, phased in over 10 years, and even a $25 dollar fee on new bikes. The money would be spent on projects at every corner of the state from the Columbia River bridge at Vancouver, Wash., to more work on Snoqualmie Pass, to the congested length of I-5, south of Tacoma. Also on the list are ferries, the Washington State Patrol and environmental protection measures.
A press conference organized yesterday to announce the package included business owners, workers and environmental advocates from across the state. They said the new fees and taxes will not only repair the states highways and roads, but create jobs.
“Improving our transportation system is critical to Washington’s economy. We hope that today’s proposal by Rep. Clibborn will be the start of a robust conversation in Olympia about how to address an estimated $50 billion in transportation needs. We can’t afford to wait any longer,” said Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable. “The construction industry across the state was the hardest hit by the recession, leaving many workers unemployed or underemployed.
“This package will not only help businesses and commuters, it will also help get these folks back to work,” said Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-Mountlake Terrace). Beyond supporting freight mobility and traffic reduction, the package also provides funds for local governments to improve street safety and fund transit agencies, the Transportation Committee members said.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee did not say whether he supported the package or not, but said the issues concerning transportation statewide cannot be ignored.
“We can’t afford to not take action and this is a job I expect the Legislature to accomplish,” he said in a published statement. “I’ll be working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to craft a package that they can send to my desk for approval.”
A Seattle Times story looked at what lies ahead for passing such a package. Under current state law, it would take a two-thirds vote in the state House and Senate to approve most of the funding proposals in the House package, including the gas tax and car tabs.
The state Supreme Court is currently considering a case that argues the two-thirds requirement is unconstitutional. Some Democrats want to push for the Legislature to approve a transportation tax package if the court throws out the supermajority requirements.
If the court upholds the law, Democrats say it will most likely have to go to voters.
Kylee Zabel is a reporter for the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Olympia News Bureau.