Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As mentioned in a previous “Letter from Olympia,” House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn recently introduced a $10 billion transportation tax package. I am opposed to that plan as long as it does not fully fund the completion of Highway 167 and is not accompanied by serious transportation reforms.
This week my caucus introduced an alternative plan called “Fix it before you fund it” which includes substantial reforms. We need to show taxpayers that we are getting the most out of our gas tax dollars before asking them to pay more. The goal of our reforms is accountability, taxpayer protections and putting people back to work.
Permitting and public-private partnerships
I introduced two transportation reforms this week that have bipartisan support.
House Bill 1978 would implement a new six-step permit process created under the Transportation Permit Efficiency and Accountability Committee (TPEAC), which was formed by 2001 legislation. Road permitting is a massive cost driver than can result in lengthy project delays and public frustrations. The six-step process would streamline permitting, ensure that environmental goals are met, while moving our economy forward.House Bill 1979 would help facilitate the process for obtaining public/private partnership funding for small scale, non-toll transportation projects. The bill follows a 2011 study by the Washington State Transportation Commission. For more information see: Washington State Transportation Commission – Public Private Partnership Programs and Non-Toll Facility Projects. This legislation allows our state to be more creative in non-toll project planning for things like ferry, transit and port facilities. We need new options for funding and new partnerships to meet economic development goals.
Making state gas tax dollars go further
By the time the state finishes paying for transportation projects funded by the 9.5 cent state gas tax increase passed in 2005, it will shift approximately $632 million in sales tax from the transportation budget to the general fund to pay for non-transportation areas of state government.
House Bill 1985, which I co-sponsored, would exempt future state transportation projects from state and local sales and use tax. This would ensure gas tax dollars are dedicated to highway purposes as required by the 18th Amendment of the state constitution.
Washington state taxpayers should be concerned about high-profile transportation failures. Examples include the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) building an off-ramp to Highway 16 in the wrong place, well-documented waste in Washington State Ferries, and design errors in the new 520 Bridge project. WSDOT admitted last week that it made mistakes while building pontoons for the new 520 Bridge and failed to run models before beginning construction. The errors could cost taxpayers $100 million. A “SR 520 Pontoon Construction Project Internal Review Report” can be found here.
House Bill 1986, which I also co-sponsored, would require WSDOT to report to the Legislature on engineering errors and mistakes that exceed $500,000. The report would need to explain how it happened, who was responsible, what disciplinary steps were taken, and what actions the secretary of transportation recommends to avoid similar errors in the future.
Two economic reform proposals involve the state's permitting process under the Growth Management Act (GMA). The bills are part of a comprehensive economic package introduced by our caucus earlier in the legislative session.
House Bill 1236 would require state agencies to make a permit decision in 90 days or the permit is automatically granted. This would add certainty and eliminate unnecessary delays in the permitting process, which would stimulate economic activity.
House Bill 1619 would suspend GMA requirements in counties with persistent unemployment, where regulations often stand in the way of economic development.
There are also reform measures that offer taxpayer protections.
House Bill 1984 would limit WSDOT's tort liability based on the amount of the department's actual fault. Currently, plaintiffs can recover the entire judgment from the deeper pockets of the state. Since 2005, WSDOT has paid out more than $116 million in lawsuit payouts. In 2010 alone, WSDOT paid out $28.6 million.
House Bill 1989 would limit bond terms for transportation projects to 15 years. We need to stop paying for construction projects over a thirty-year period when the jobs they create usually only last for five or ten years. Bonding for fifteen years would save the state interest payments and help control our debt.
The Legislature needs to make these reforms before expecting taxpayers to pay more. It is the Legislature's duty to ensure that we are getting the most out of taxpayer dollars and gas tax dollars.
As always, let me know your thoughts.
468 John L.O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
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