It is not just the federal government running out of money. Washington state seems to be as well. As the news coming out of Olympia shows, legislators have gotten the message. They are leaving no stone or basket unturned as they search for funding sources wherever they can. And if they can call them fees instead of taxes, all the better.
There is a tsunami of need coming due just as the economy is beginning to get back on track. And they all cost big money. The state has been ordered by the court to come up with $2 billion to fund public schools. Gov. Inslee says his goal is to put $1 billion of new money into the K-12 public school system as soon as possible. But he did not offer any guarantees.
One possibility Inslee explicitly did not rule out on the campaign trail was asking voters for more transportation taxes. The state is way behind on maintenance — it is more than time to catch up. It will be painful. The $10 billion ‘Connecting Washington’ proposal to pay for key transportation projects, introduced by state transportation chair Rep. Clibborn, did not include a way to pay for completing SR-520. Many are confused or just plain angry that it was left out — leaving drivers who must use I-90 to pay the freight. It is clear that both sources are needed to get ahead on road repairs.
The fury over the cracked bridge pontoons and design issues on SR-520 is understandable. But it must be fixed. The problem to pay for the corridor remains.
There is more ahead than just roads and schools. Expanding Medicaid under federal health care reform to cover more than 300,000 additional people will be costly. The state must grapple with how to expand higher education opportunities without raising tuition at universities and colleges. Who will pay for the expansion of gun control efforts? Looming on the horizon is how to pay for public employee pensions.
The pain of tax and fee increases will be widespread. Everyone in the state will have a hand in paying for a bridge across the Columbia River whether they cross it or not. Everyone will help pay a state employee’s pension without even knowing their name.