February 14, 2014 in Opinion

Editorial: Cooperation needed to pave way for roads plan

 

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

We’re not asking Democrats and Republicans in Olympia to exchange candy and flowers after the Senate Majority Coalition Thursday released a revised transportation plan financed by an 11.5 cent gas tax increase. Just get a room and engage in respectful negotiations.

It worked in 2003 and 2005. It can work again.

Although business and labor leaders have been pressuring the Legislature for more than a year to come up with a transportation package that would upgrade tattered roads and bridges, and boost the economy as a result, it didn’t look promising just a week ago.

The Democrat-led House produced a plan during the last legislative session, but the Senate chose not to follow suit. In November, the GOP-led Senate Majority Coalition produced a bigger plan that emphasized completing projects, and reforming the way they are permitted, designed and financed.

But the two chambers couldn’t reach a compromise that could have been debated in a special session, and hopes faded.

However, the Senate Majority Coalition has revived hopes of approving a package that could go to the voters. The $12.3 billion plan doesn’t call for a referendum, but lawmakers might as well provide for one because if they don’t, Tim Eyman surely will.

The new proposal offers compromises aimed at luring more West Side support with additional spending on mass transit and bike and pedestrian paths. Plus, it gives local governments more financing flexibility. Eastern Washington lawmakers should like the $750 million for the North Spokane Corridor, which would take it down to Interstate 90. The Senate project list also includes $15 million for widening State Route 904 from Cheney to I-90, and $11.7 million for a passing lane on U.S. 195 between Colfax and Spangle.

The big sticking point for Democrats is the removal of the sales tax on transportation projects, which lowers construction costs but would divert about $840 million from the general fund over 12 years. Senate leaders make a strong case that economic development following completion of roads and bridges would replenish the fund. Washington is one of only five states that taxes its own road projects.

The big sticking point for Republicans is the gas-tax hike, but current sources of revenue fall short of what’s needed to keep traffic – and the economy – moving. In Idaho, trucking companies are begging the Legislature for a gas tax increase to shore up the roads. Congress, which hasn’t raised the gas tax in 21 years, is facing the depletion of the Highway Trust Fund in September.

The gas tax just doesn’t go as far as it used to, because vehicles are more fuel efficient and people are driving less.

We urge Gov. Inslee to rise above the political point-making and bring House and Senate leaders together to forge a compromise. Then invite public comment.

No displays of affection are required.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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