Friends and Neighbors,
With only two more weeks to go, both the House and Senate are considering each other's policy bills and working on adjustments to the current two-year budgets. Thank you to everyone who has sent letters, emails, or called to share your concerns on legislative issues. Your input is appreciated.
Update on the transportation supplemental budget
I would like to thank my colleagues on the House Transportation committee, especially Chair Judy Clibborn, for the time and hard work that was put into this proposed supplemental transportation budget. This was truly a collaborative effort.
The transportation system of Washington is a vital part of our state's economy. Although the supplemental budget proposes an increase of $470 million, for a total budget of $8.6 billion, most of that is due to projects not being completed in the previous budget. So, revenue and spending are transferred into this budget from the last. $48 million of the increase is for operating programs and $3 million for debt service.
While I believe this budget is a good start, more work needs to be done. Two areas of concern include the development of the road usage change (RUC) pilot, and the $16 million dollars proposed for Washington State Patrol (WSP) trooper pay.
Washington State Patrol
We do have an issue. The state has seen a sizable decline in the number of state troopers – from a high of 690 to the current number of 580. A large group of troopers have retired, and a sizeable number of younger troopers have left to take law enforcement jobs elsewhere. This is a problem, but I am not sure it is a $16 million problem for the remainder of this biennium. While pay is important, pay alone will not resolve all of the concerns that result in troopers leaving.
The Washington state trooper study working group started in July 2015. The focus of the study was on how to retain state troopers and recruit new ones. While salary is a portion of the problem, the majority of troopers reported dealing with discouragement because of management practices. We need to address the administrative and working conditions of troopers first, otherwise pay is not going to be enough to retain and recruit troopers. Job satisfaction needs to be improved.
A WSP statewide salary survey has also been proposed. I'm concerned about this survey because I worry it could become a mandate. A bigger concern is that we could be giving control over to a portion of our budget to larger urban areas like Seattle, Snohomish County, King County, Tacoma, Vancouver and Spokane. First, some regional differences in trooper pay is already added to the base pay. These differences vary for each of the counties where it is offered. Changes would need to be made to the proposed survey to account for these differences in order to avoid a double accounting for cost of living in those jurisdictions.
Road User Charge – vehicle miles travelled
Within the transportation supplemental budget there is a proposal for $500,000 to pay for a pilot project of a RUC (vehicle miles travelled charge). I have several reservations about this method – and about the pilot project.
My concerns include the fairness of this type of tax, and several unanswered questions about how it would be implemented. This uncertainty includes: how and when would it be put into place? How would we charge out-of-state drivers, and how could the administrative costs be handled? Would differences for urban vs. rural drivers be accounted for?
Right now the fuel tax is collected at the “rack”. With approximately 200 distributers, the administrative costs only have to cover about 2400 payments per year. With well over 6 million vehicles, if we have to apply this tax to each automobile, that would mean having to account for 6 million transactions. If the tax was collected on a yearly basis the shock would be too much for most households. Collections might be quarterly, or monthly, creating as many as 72 million transactions. This is would be unacceptable for the average taxpayer.
Other states have begun this type of research already, so it makes sense to me that we should look at their results. The road user tax has been sold as something to be done much later in the future. If that is true, then it would be better to launch this pilot project closer to the time of implementation. Though I'm not convinced we should do it at all.
Despite these concerns, I believe this is generally a good budget.
- $23 million of additional federal funding for structurally deficient bridges.
- $113 million is deferred on the Alaskan Way Viaduct to reflect the non-delivery of many milestones for the project.
- $44 million for the 520 bridge replacement program.
- $113 million over the next 14 years for fish passage barrier removal corrections and coordination.
- $150,000 for a safety study on SR 169.
- $2.4 million is added to the $3.2 million in the current budget to reimburse local governments for stormwater facilities on state highways.
- $1.2 million to expand DOL capacity for processing the enhanced drivers' license and identicards. These enhanced cards are REAL ID compliant.
- $42 million for the new 144-car ferry. This money will help prevent any delays that could potentially increase the cost of its construction.
- $1 million for electronic vehicle charging infrastructure. Electric vehicles currently pay $50 annually to fund this program.
More information on the Transportation Supplemental Budget is available from LEAP.
While more needs to be done, it is a good beginning. I will continue to work to improve this budget to best meet the needs of my constituents.
Here are more ways for you to stay informed
• TVW is the state's own version of C-SPAN, broadcasting floor and committee action live online.
• State budget and fiscal information, including interactive fiscal reports, budget information, and maps.
• Legislature's website has bill reports, committee agendas and information about upcoming activities.
• The Capitol Buzz is a daily list of state-wide online news stories.
• The Current is an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans.