Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Today is day 96 of the 2015 legislative session. Budget negotiations have begun, but there is little progress to report.
The differences between the parties are substantial. House Democrats and the governor want new revenue – new and increased taxes. Republicans believe we can live within our means and pass a fiscally responsible budget with existing revenue. Tax revenues coming into the state are up almost 9 percent, or $3 billion, from the last biennium.
Late Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee passed a transportation funding package. It includes the completion of Highway 167, which is very much needed in our district. However, I would like to see meaningful reforms in any final transportation package that comes out of the Legislature. We need to change the way we do business. You can read my op-ed in this weekend's Tacoma News Tribune here: Any gas tax increase must be linked to major reforms
You can also read the text below.
Reforms are key to transportation deal
By Rep. Hans Zeiger
When it comes to transportation, the Legislature must face two big imperatives: the need to invest in infrastructure, and the need for a more cost-effective state Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The two are completely, absolutely intertwined, and any increase in the gas tax must be accompanied by major reforms.
When I talk with neighbors in my hometown of Puyallup, I hear these two imperatives loud and clear. People talk about the particular need to finish Highway 167 from where it dead-ends north of the Puyallup River out to the Port of Tacoma. People understand the need to maintain the competitiveness of our ports, to invest in freight mobility, and to boost jobs throughout Washington.
Constituents also talk about their frustrations with the WSDOT. They express dismay about the stalled boring machine in the Highway 99 tunnel, the cost overruns and faulty pontoons on the 520 bridge, a design error on Highway 16 in Tacoma, and mismanagement of the ferry system. The status quo isn't working.
So yes, the public is asking for a better transportation system. That means critical freight mobility projects like 167 as well as Highway 509 connecting the Port of Seattle to I-5. It means congestion relief on I-5 through Joint Base Lewis-McChord, widening of I-405, and completion of the North Spokane Corridor. It means progress on transit. But above all, it means better stewardship of gas tax dollars. It means accountability to get the job done on time, on budget, and with less bureaucracy and administrative waste.
When the state Senate passed a bipartisan transportation package in recent weeks, it wisely attached to a proposed 11.7 cent gas tax a series of reforms I support: use of sales taxes on transportation projects for transportation itself rather than welfare and prisons; streamlined permitting; expanded use of efficient design-build construction methods; more efficient ferry construction;, and prioritization of congestion relief in state transportation policy.
In fact, the House should add to the Senate's work. We need additional reforms like expedited permitting and contracting to replace structurally deficient bridges, authorization of public-private partnerships to bring in alternative financing for infrastructure, better use of recycled aggregate and concrete in road construction, provisions for transit agencies to be governed by elected board members, and “practical design” policies to ensure that we are not spending more dollars on projects than what is absolutely essential. Some of these reforms have already been passed by the House, while others await action.
If House transportation leaders are serious about reaching a deal this session, they should move quickly on the Senate's proposed reforms as well as additional House bills.
Failure to reform would be a deal-killer. It would delay critical investments in infrastructure while raising doubts about the Legislature's ability to solve problems on a bipartisan basis. It would bypass a window of opportunity that may not come around again for years.
On the other hand, a reform-based funding agreement would be a signal of Washington's high aspirations for public accountability and economic development.
In the back-and-forth about “fixing” or “funding” our transportation system, it's not an either-or. We must fix and fund at the same time.
Keep in touch.
468 John L.O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7968 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000