Major support for Senate transportation plan shown at House committee hearing

Supporters of the Senate Transportation package turned out in force yesterday at the House Transportation Committee hearing in Olympia. 

The Spokesman-Review reports:

A steady stream of business leaders and local government officials urged a House panel to raise the gasoline tax and several other vehicle fees and spend the projected $15 billion on roads, bridges, mass transit and ferries.

Although some had highway or bridge projects they think should be added to the proposed list, most speakers who came before the House Transportation Committee in the three-hour hearing said they supported an 11.7 cent increase in the state gas tax that passed the Senate earlier this month. The proposal also has higher fees for vehicle weights, drivers and a new $5 fee on each new studded tire sold after Jan. 1, 2017.

More than 90 people showed up to testify, underscoring the importance of getting something done this year. KING 5 reported that the House will put its own stamp on the plan, quoting House Transportation Committee chair Rep. Judy Clibborn as saying the House proposal will come out soon, with final details not likely to be out until the closing days of the session.

TVW covered the hearing. The first business panel, which includes Opportunity Washington partners AWB president Kris Johnson and Washington Roundtable president Steve Mullin, begins at 44:50. 

The show of support yesterday was impressive and compelling. It’s necessary to maintain the momentum and assure that a comprehensive, bipartisan transportation package passes the Legislature in 2015.


New Washington Research Council Report Examines Senate Transportation Plans

Hours before the House Transportation Committee hearing on the Senate’s transportation bills, the Washington Research Council has released its analysis of the Senate legislation.

The Senate’s opening bid in the transportation budget process includes a budget bill (ESSB 5988), a revenue bill (ESSB 5987), and eight policy reform bills. The package would increase the state gas tax by 11.7 cents over three years and would deliver $13.8 billion in new transportation spending through 2031. This would be the state’s first major transportation investment program since 2005.

Today’s House hearing will be on the the budget and revenue bills. Opportunity Washington strongly endorses passage of both. As the WRC concludes, the Senate legislation funds essential maintenance and preservation. In addition, 

…the package would fund many infrastructure projects that will help get goods to market and people to work. The economic costs of poor road conditions accrue broadly to Washington’s residents, businesses, and government. Reducing congestion, improving freight capacity, and enabling new growth would help make the state more competitive and make Washington a better place to live. The investment is past due.

It’s time to act. 


More editorial support for Senate transportation package

Two recent editorials encourage lawmakers to keep working on comprehensive transportation legislation, using the Senate package as a model.

From the Seattle Times:

THE state Senate, after two years of frustrated effort, has passed a $15 billion transportation package. Its 11 measures — a mix of reforms and revenue — are key to relieving traffic congestion with investments in transit and roads and maintaining the state’s existing highways and bridges.

A bipartisan group of senators exercised some imagination to negotiate and shepherd this compromise, which includes an 11.7-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax, through their chamber. The deal could create an estimated 200,000 jobs over the next 16 years.

State House leaders must keep the momentum going.

And from the Wenatchee World:

It was a bipartisan effort, and an accomplishment in and of itself. The state Senate Tuesday approved a $15 billion transportation package, a series of administrative reforms, and a phased 11.7-cent increase in the gas tax. It was a difficult, but large step forward toward the ultimate goal of making an adequate investment in the state’s infrastructure, essential to our economic well-being.

The truths are evident. The state requires a functioning and modestly efficient transportation system to move its goods and people, the fuel for economic growth.

Exactly right.

More support for transportation package: Daily News & Transportation Futures Alliance

The Puget Sound Regional Council reports that the Transportation Futures Task Force has written the Legislature in support of a comprehensive transportation package. The letter says, in part:

We are encouraged by the bi-partisan leadership in Olympia to secure vital improvements and repairs to the state’s transportation system, and by the Senate’s action this week. We urge enactment of a comprehensive transportation package this year.

The TFTF endorsement echoes support the Senate proposal has received from editorial boards, civic groups and business leaders from across the state. Add to the list this positive editorial from The Daily News of Longview. 

This week, the state Senate passed a $15 billion transportation package that includes $85 million for the improvement of State Route 432 near the Port of Longview. This could be huge for our region. The state Senate and House of Representatives will negotiate a final version of any transportation bill and send it on to Gov. Jay Inslee for approval, but the Senate bill gives our region a chance to obtain funds and take action on a critical economic development and traffic issue.

…We’re encouraging readers who’d like to see growth and economic development to contact their state legislators and to urge them to pass a transportation bill that includes dedicated funds for SR 432 and its parallel rail corridor.

Now, it’s up to the House to act.

Senate passes transportation package! An important first step.

This afternoon the state Senate passed ESSB 5987 providing critical funding for transportation investment. The revenue bill passed with a strong bipartisan vote, 27-22 (roll call here).

Senators also overwhelmingly passed SB 5988, the associated transportation investment plan, 41-8. 

These two measures, plus the eight important reform bills adopted last week represent critical progress. Opportunity Washington commends the Senate for its action.

The legislation now moves to the House, where we urge swift approval. 


More coverage of Senate gas tax proposal

Yesterday’s announcement of a bipartisan Senate transportation agreement represents real progress toward passing the first comprehensive transportation package in a decade. (TVW coverage of the press conference here;  documents here).

Jordan Schrader reports in the Olympian that a number of issues are still unresolved and opposition to the proposal can be found in both caucuses. Yet…

“I don’t think the four of us would be standing here if we didn’t feel confident that we could muster enough votes,” said Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, flanked by fellow Republican Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn and Democratic Sens. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens and Marko Liias of Lynnwood. King leads the Senate Transportation Committee that will now hold hearings.

The Associated Press has more, including King’s sense of urgency and reason for rejecting the governor’s proposed cap-and-trade plan.

He said he understood that some may oppose the idea of a gas-tax increase but said, “we don’t have any other way to do it, without changing our whole system.”

“We don’t have another alternative at this point, but we also believe we can’t wait any longer to address our maintenance and preservation issues and address congestion,” he said.

Another of the governor’s carbon reduction plans also gets touched on in the proposed legislation.

Part of the plan also addresses another Inslee is considering, a low-carbon fuel standard that would require cleaner fuels over time. If that standard is ultimately adopted, under the Senate plan all non-bondable revenues — like fee-based money going toward transit and bike paths — would instead be moved into the main transportation account.

While it’s a long journey yet, this is an important, commendable first step.


Seattle Times: Clear roadblocks for transportation package

Today’s Seattle Times editorial supporting swift legislative action on a transportation package concludes with the right, strong emphasis.

The transportation negotiations under way now in the state Senate must represent the urgency of the need. Legislative leaders should set a deadline of mid-March, when the Legislature’s attention will shift to the operating budget.

Delay further and the Senate risks sending a message to the business community — which has strongly backed a package — that it can’t address the basics of governing.

It’s well past time for Olympia to keep the state moving.

Read the whole thing … there are important details to sort out. But the critical point is that those details must be resolved. They cannot stand in the way of reaching agreement on transportation funding in the next few weeks.

The editorial in the Times nicely complements a similar position taken by the Spokane Spokesman-Review just days ago. The S-R noted,

To understand what’s at stake, the Washington Roundtable, a group of statewide business leaders, asked the Boston Consulting Group to study the impact of action and inaction. A $7 billion investment over 30 years would generate an estimated $42 billion economic boost, creating nearly 200,000 jobs and more efficient movement of goods and motorists. Conversely, inaction would cost the average driver $940 annually, and shipping volume at the Seattle and Tacoma ports would take a hit. Plus, by 2026, 60 percent of highway pavement would be rated “poor” or worse, and 40 percent of bridges would be dangerously deficient.

The stakes are high, as this Opportunity Washington video makes clear.

There’s no time to waste.

Spokane Spokesman-Review: State needs a gas tax increase

The Spokesman-Review editorial board makes a compelling case for raising the gas tax now. (It’s a great editorial, though it does dredge up some unhappy Super Bowl memories to make a point.)

When legislators debated a gas-tax increase at this time last year, the statewide average price per gallon was $3.32, according to AAA. On Wednesday, it was $2.15 statewide and $1.76 in Spokane.

Not raising the gas tax this year is like failing to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch on the half-yard line.

But the state better hurry and huddle up, because Congress may be coalescing around a federal gas-tax increase of 12 cents per gallon to shore up the deficit in the U.S. Highway Trust Fund.

The Opportunity Washington research report expands on the need to invest in transportation this year.

In 2012, the Connecting Washington Task Force, a blue-ribbon commission of labor, government, and business leaders chaired by Gov. Chris Gregoire, reported that Washington’s population is expected to grow by 28 percent by 2022, annual vehicle miles traveled are expected to reach 60 billion by 2020, freight volumes are expected to triple by 2035, and central Puget Sound transit ridership is expected to grow 90 percent by 2040.

Accompanying these projected needs are funding challenges. Revenue from the fuel tax, the primary revenue source for transportation projects, cannot keep pace with demand due to increased vehicle fuel efficiency reducing the amount of fuel purchased in the state. Connecting Washington recommended a state investment of $21 billion over 10 years for preservation and new projects. (The full cost of meeting the state’s needs was estimated to total $50 billion.)

Lawmakers have not approved a significant new statewide transportation investment since those recommendations were released.

Legislative transportation leaders appear to be getting closer to reaching agreement . At AWB’s Legislative Summit:

Sen. [Curtis] King [Senate Transportation Committee Chair] said that before the Legislature moves ahead with a transportation package, cost-saving and accountability reforms must be put in place.

“As the talks move forward, we are getting closer on reforms we agree on and finding common ground on a few sticking points,” King said. “I give a lot of credit to the labor unions. We are moving forward together as a united front on this effort.”

The Spokesman-Review indicated that this year, creative revenue alternatives may be a problem.

…Gov. Jay Inslee has complicated matters by announcing a wholly new approach to infrastructure funding: a cap-and-trade carbon scheme that would produce uncertain results. Inslee wants to “tax polluters instead of commuters,” who, by the way, are also polluters. His plan would subject the state’s largest carbon emitters to this carbon levy without raising the gas tax.

However, the chairs of the House and Senate transportation committees are cool to the idea.

Inslee gets points for creativity, but dropping an idea of this magnitude into the middle of the debate is unhelpful. 

A lot of work has gone into documenting the need for investment and establishing funding priorities. The sooner lawmakers can reach agreement on how to pay for what must be paid for, the better off we will all be.