Senate unveils transportation budget

Senate unveils transportation budget
The Senate 2019-21 transportation budget proposal would spend $9.8 billion, $3.1 billion of which would go toward fish barrier removal. Photo: freepik.com

The Senate Transportation Committee voted on Mar. 28 in favor of a proposed 2019-21 transportation budget that spends a similar amount as its counterpart in the state House, with increased funding for Connecting Washington projects as well as fish barrier removal.

Sponsored by Chair Steve Hobbs (D-44), SB 5214 would spend $9.8 billion over the two year period; roughly $5.2 billion of that would be capital spending, an 18 percent increase from the previous biennium. More than half ($3.1 billion) of the capital spending would go toward fixing culverts that have been said to impede salmon passage and harm salmon habitat.

A court ruling requires several hundred barriers on land managed by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) be removed by 2030. The current House transportation budget proposal spends $214 million on fish culverts, though it assumes a spike in funding within the next two biennia.

Other capital project spending includes:

  • $40 million for the SR 167/SR 509 Puget Sound Gateway;
  • $17 million to widen Interstate 90 between Snoqualmie Pass and Easton; and
  • $11 million on the Route 155/Omak Bridge.

The budget also includes $1.6 million to continue planning work on a regional ultra high-speed rail line, provided that there are matching private or local funds.

“We came together and put …a fiscally responsible budget together,” Hobbs told colleagues at a Mar. 27 public hearing. At the Mar. 28 meeting, he added that the fiscal restraint “may help us in the future” if voters approve an initiative that “takes away funding.” Tim Eyman has sponsored I-976 limiting car tabs to $30, which would reduce drivers’ annual vehicle fees that go into the state Multimodal Transportation Account.

Speaking in support prior to the Mar. 28 vote, ranking minority member Sen. Curtis King (R-14) described it as “a pretty austere budget.”

Testifying in support of the bill at the Mar. 27 public hearing, Jane Wall with the Washington State Association of Counties noted the budget looks at fish barrier removal with a “larger habitat watershed approach.” Other funding provisions noted by Wall include $112 million for the County Road Administration Board (CRAB). A portion of that money is specifically intended for a revolving loan account proposed in SB 5923, sponsored by Hobbs, to help counties repair roads damaged by disasters. That bill received unanimous Senate support and on Mar. 27 cleared the House Transportation Committee.

Hobbs has also proposed a 10-year transportation package intended to meet the full cost of repairing the hundreds of fish culverts subject to the court injunction that includes new revenue sources such as a $15 carbon tax and a $.06 gas tax increase. SB 5971 cleared the Transportation Committee on Feb. 28 and has been referred to the Ways and Means Committee, but no public hearing has been scheduled.

Hobbs has also proposed $5 billion in bond sales to pay for capital expenditures; SB 5970 was voted out of the Transportation Committee Feb. 28 and has been referred to the Rules Committee.

No further action is scheduled for SB 5214 at this time.

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