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State seeks ways to pay for transportation

Questions about revenues and voter reactions surround Gov. Chris Gregoire's Connecting Washington task force as it nears the end of its efforts to come up with recommendations for a transportation financing plan to offer to the legislature.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire CTED

Highway 520 in Bellevue at evening rush hour.

Highway 520 in Bellevue at evening rush hour. WSDOT

The task force appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in July to study a 10-year investment and funding plan for Washington state's transportation system continues its labors. Progress has appeared slow, but interest groups and advocates have no shortage of ideas to urge the panel along.

The group has had a series of meetings, most recently on Tuesday (Nov. 29). The  final meeting will take place on Dec. 12, after which the task force will prepare a report for presentation to the Legislature and the public. The Legislature is expected to send the resulting “transportation package” on to the voters for decision.

The Connecting Washington group's 31 members include Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) secretary Paula Hammond, State Transportation Commission chair Richard Ford, the chairs and ranking minority members of the Senate and House transportation committees, and representatives of county governments, city governments, ports, and numerous other interested parties, mostly from the private sector.

In terms of results, the task force in some respects resembles the deficit-reduction supercommittee dominating headlines from the other Washington: will it pinpoint preferred solutions, or merely leave the difficult decisions to the Legislature?

Although the governor's July press release on the task force appointments said that the group would “review statewide transportation needs, recommend the most promising projects for investment and identify potential revenue sources,” gubernatorial spokesman Scott Whiteaker offered few specifics on what the task force has been deliberating. The governor, in his view, was “pretty clear” about the expectation level. “The goal of the task force is not to produce a list of specific projects. The goal is to discuss the transportation system as a whole and what needs to be done to address its needs, and how to do so.”

Of particular interest at the Nov. 29 meeting was the presentation of a survey of citizen attitudes on transportation. The survey, conducted for the Washington State Transportation Commission by consultant EMC Research, found among other things that “even though most residents are not convinced that the [transportation system’s] immediate need is critical, a strong majority are still willing to consider raising ‘some transportation taxes and fees.’ However, only 3 of the 9 specific revenue sources tested — electric vehicle fee, emissions fee, and tolling — receive majority support as ways to fund increased transportation investment.”

The survey also found that “increased state funding for transit and passenger rail has strong support in most of the state,” and that “tolling has majority support across the state — including Variable Tolls and Express Toll Lanes — and a majority favor using toll revenue to fund improvements within a travel corridor rather than just on the specific facility.”

Later in the meeting, a PowerPoint by the consulting firm Cedar River Group listed bullet points laying out revenue options. These included “tax on auto [insurance] premiums” and “index fuel tax” — meaning a linkage between fuel taxes and inflation — in addition to “more tolling.” The last rubric encompassed such possibilities as high-occupancy tolling lanes, an extension to bridge tolling, and tolling levied within a geographic area in response to congestion.

Discussion of revenues and target projects, Whiteaker said, will continue at the group's final session. “All of this is really leading up to a point where the group solidifies principles of revenue and investment,” he said after the meeting.

A blog post from the Washington Policy Center shortly after the meeting noted that "the survey was conducted online and most certainly suffers from a self selection bias. In fact, some of the results are 180 degrees apart from other recent polls with similar questions."

Pointing to the possible difficulites for "policymakers who want a transportation package in 2012 during a presidential election year," the center's Michael Ennis wrote that "given the current economic climate and combined with the Governor’s new statewide sales tax proposal for general government (probably with a vote in April), a transportation tax package in November now seems less likely."


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Nov 30, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Good article, but one correction. The survey results are from a random phone survey, NOT an online poll. Two polls were commissioned: (1) a random phone survey of residents and (2) an online poll which anyone could complete.

The results presented at the Nov 29 meeting are from the random phone survey of residents across the state.

Larry Ehl

Posted Wed, Nov 30, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Further clarification: the results are statistically valid from a randomly selected group of residents. However, some of those folks completed the survey online, others completed via a phone interview. The non-random, non-statistically valid online poll (same questions) open to everyone is still available for completion.

Larry Ehl

Posted Wed, Nov 30, 9:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Maybe we should take back some of the quid-pro-quo deals our Governor has given to Sovereign Nations in exchange for campaign money.

Over the next 17 years, the state Department of Transportation estimates it will give 22 tribes well over half a billion dollars of gas tax revenue - $620,676,200.

Read the KOMO News story here: http://www.komonews.com/news/problemsolvers/121371074.html

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Nov 30, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

The title of Komo's story: What a Waste: State Keeping Secrets With Our Gas Tax.

The State gets help in keeping these "secrets". Did I miss mention of this giveaway in Crosscut's story?

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Nov 30, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Another ungainly and uncoordinated committee to study Washington's ungainly and uncoordinated transportation mess. It's a mistake to call any part of it a "system" because that's precisely what it's not.

For those seeking a more practical solution, next Saturday from 9 to 5 WSDOT will be holding a sidewalk bake sale in Seattle. You can't miss it. Right next to the downtown on-ramp to the viaduct just in front of that little Thai restaurant.

woofer

Posted Wed, Nov 30, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

1 of 2

This approach (create a new taxing scheme targeting individuals for the most part, to be spent in ways recommended by a “task force” comprised of established interest groups) will produce lousy results. Seattle voters just rejected this same approach when we voted down Prop. 1 earlier this month.

The state legislator taking the lead in this is “Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island), chair of the House Transportation Committee and a key member of the task force”? We’re in trouble, she’s shown how inept she is. She introduced the cost overrun provision into the statutory financing plan for the AWV replacement megaproject. Here’s what she herself said about that piece of garbage:

The amendment that narrowly passed the House Wednesday says the state will pay only $2.4 billion for the viaduct project and that up to $400 million more could come from tolls. Anything above that, the amendment says, "shall be borne by property owners in the Seattle area who benefit" from the tunnel.

Asked whether that language would actually have any legal force, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, who sponsored the amendment at House Speaker Frank Chopp behest, said Thursday "I have my doubts."

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2009113638_viaduct24m.html .

Clibborn sponsors megaproject financing statute amendments she believes won’t have legal force! No reasonable legislator does that.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Nov 30, 10:02 a.m. Inappropriate

2 of 2

From the piece:

Washington's premier opponent of new taxes, Tim Eyman, told Crosscut that [ ].

Nothing attributed to Eyman in this piece could further the interests of the people (and businesses, to a much lesser extent) being targeted with the new proposed taxes and fees.

Eyman flies a false flag. His initiatives, including I-776, I-1055, and I-1125 were drafted with language the taxing advocates wanted so they could bring lawsuits designed to harm the interests of taxpayers. Eyman’s entity Permanent Offense played the role of lame opponent in the I-776 litigation, without raising appropriate claims. The he remained silent when the justices made up fake claims and attributed them to his entity.

Everybody gets this, right? Eyman makes statements designed to further the goals of pro-tax interests, he acts as the face of initiatives designed to lead to abusive appellate court opinions, and he never criticizes the fundamental flaws with financing plans. He’s a tool the government propagandists use.

In this story he advocates for one or more public votes on new tax and spend measures. Those invariably lead to bad outcomes, in part because they create new funding silos. Moreover, the proponents of that kind of ballot measure can and do lie during the run-ups to the election about how much tax will be collected, how it will be spent, etc.

Eyman’s got no credibility. The public statewide just trounced his lousy I-1125. He dresses in a gorilla suit for press conferences, and his background is as a sorority watch salesman. He’s a goofy Republican who never raises good arguments against tax and spend measures and his initiatives are filled with legal flaws. It’s Propaganda 101 – use a dim stiff to personify “the opposition”. Eyman’s the perfect (fake) opponent for tax pimps, that’s why he’s always trotted out for the local reporters and editors who have to print his inane quotes and describe his flaky initiatives or they’ll lose access to the governments’ copy for their media outlets.

It would be great if we could discuss this state panel’s work with one of its members in particular -- the Transportation Choices Coalition policy director, Carrie Dolwick. Hey Carrie, could you log in here and elaborate on some of your interest group’s goals in terms of new legislation for transit taxing and spending? Dedicated transit taxes in this neck of the woods are many times higher than in the peer regions – we could discuss why that might be, and why you believe more taxing in the name of transit might be appropriate.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Nov 30, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

"Eyman’s got no credibility. The public statewide just trounced his lousy I-1125. He dresses in a gorilla suit for press conferences, and his background is as a sorority watch salesman. He’s a goofy Republican who never raises good arguments against tax and spend measures and his initiatives are filled with legal flaws. It’s Propaganda 101 – use a dim stiff to personify “the opposition”. Eyman’s the perfect (fake) opponent for tax pimps, that’s why he’s always trotted out for the local reporters and editors who have to print his inane quotes and describe his flaky initiatives or they’ll lose access to the governments’ copy for their media outlets."

Beats elected officials who sell out their constituency to sovereign nations for cash.

BlueLight

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