Friends and Neighbors,
With the ceremonies and addresses behind us, the work of the Legislature is underway. This year is a 105-day “long session,” when state lawmakers write the state's two-year operating, capital and transportation budgets. I discuss what is meant by the “long session” in my recent video update that you can watch here.
In the House Transportation Committee last Wednesday, we were provided a presentation on the governor's 2019-21 transportation budget. He is making a lot of requests and I have concerns with some of them.
Washington State Ferries
The governor wants $64 million to begin the construction of two new electric hybrid ferries. He also wants $53.2 million to begin the conversion of two Jumbo Mark II vessels to electric hybrid. The total costs projected for these projects is estimated at $497 million.
In purchasing two expensive new electric hybrid ferries, the governor wants to buy two new ferries for the price of three non-electric hybrid ferries. With WSDOT indicating that we have too few ferries, I'm concerned that this request will result in the ferry system just asking for more beyond these requests. I also question if this is a good use of tax dollars. According to this recent news release from WSDOT, annual ridership in our state ferry system increased by more than 225,000 last year to nearly 25 million – its highest level since 2002.
Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project
The governor's transportation budget also includes $43 million for cost overruns for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project in Seattle, and another $3.5 million for transit mitigation. This project is now three years behind schedule and $145.6 million over budget. It was also revealed in the news this week that WSDOT is spending $4.4 million on the new “Tunnel Direct” marketing campaign to tell people about the project.
While I'm pleased that it will soon be completed, the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project is another example of a broken promise to taxpayers. Our state can, and must, do better with its limited gas tax dollars – taxes you pay at the pump.
Transportation Matters presentation
On Thursday, WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar provided a Transportation Matters presentation – an overview of the state agency's responsibilities and use of your gas tax dollars. The presentation included information on the road user charge, congestion pricing and tolling – controversial issues that you will probably hear more about in the news. A recent poll showed that even people in Seattle and King County do not like the idea of tolling freeways and city streets, but the idea is continually being pushed/expanded.
Broadband access for underserved areas
I'm sometimes hard on the governor and his state agencies. And I will continue to be when appropriate. Holding government accountable is especially important when one party controls the Legislature and governor's office. This is what taxpayers expect and deserve.
I will also give credit where credit is due. The governor appears to have made broadband access for underserved areas one of his priorities. While Republicans have led on this issue in the past, including the passing of House Bill 2664 last year, the governor just introduced a plan to bring the Internet and telecommunications service to underserved areas of Washington.
As with any large proposal, details and costs will need to be examined closely. However, the governor's willingness to engage on this issue is an important first step and could end up benefiting some of our communities in the 20th Legislative District.
Last year, I proposed House Bill 2746, which would have allowed a local sales and use tax as a credit against the state sales tax for rural high-speed internet infrastructure without increasing the total sales and use tax rate. This would provide counties an opportunity to use the funds to make critical infrastructure investments. It would not raise taxes on consumers. I plan to introduce this bill again this year.
In discussions with the governor's office, it appears that both bills could work together. I'm hopeful these bills unite us in our efforts to expand broadband access in our area.
Thanks for reading my email update. If you have any questions or ideas to share, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 786-7990.