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Kilmer: Legislative session yielded dividends for South Kitsap

Despite its having concluded with a budget that neither he nor either of his two colleagues in the 26th District delegation could support, State Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) believes a number of positive developments came out of the extended 2010 legislative session.

And several of those will have a direct impact on South Kitsap residents.

Up first on the chopping block was the proposed increase in toll charges at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

“People are struggling in this economy, and they don’t need higher tolls,” Kilmer said on Thursday, two days after the regular session and 30-day special session concluded.

Going into this year, the Washington State Transportation Commission had sought a toll increase for cars with and without Good to Go passes on their windshields, but the Narrows Bridge Citizens Advisory Committee recommended an increase only for those using the toll booths.

Ultimately, by deferring for a year repayment of a $5.3 million loan the state had taken out in 2006 when lawsuits delayed the start of bridge construction, the Washington State Department of Transportation was able to hold the line at least for this year on Good to Go users at $2.75 per round trip.

In addition, the agreement also changed the way the money is dispersed from the collection of toll violations, ensuring that all of the funds went to the bridge.

“Under the current system,” Kilmer said, “when someone crosses the bridge without paying, they’re sent a ticket. But only $12 of every $52 fine goes to support the bridge.”

The Pierce County court system pockets the rest.

“It had become a real cash cow for the court system,” Kilmer said. “That’s obviously why they were so reluctant to give it up.”

With the passage of the new law, offenders will first receive a bill in the amount of the toll, plus a small handling charge.

They will then be given 80 days to pay that bill or it would be converted to a toll violation, which would be handled through a separate administrative office dedicated to toll collection rather than through the courts.

“With this law, fines will be reduced to $40, and the bridge gets to keep all of it,” Kilmer said. “That will amount to several million additional dollars a year to support the bridge and keep tolls down.”

South Kitsap’s other major coup during the session was persuading WSDOT to assume authority over an additional 610 feet of State Route 166.

As the city of Port Orchard had gradually extended its boundaries over the years, SR-166 — or Mile Hill Drive, as it is known to locals — started to deteriorate, and the controversy ensued.

The state argued it was the city’s responsibility to maintain that stretch of road even though state law dictates if a state highway extends into a city’s boundaries, and that city has fewer than 22,500 residents, the state is responsible for its maintenance.

Kilmer said the state should be responsible for maintaining the entire road, but even adding 610 feet will help.

“First of all, that’s 610 feet the city no longer has to pay for,” he said. “But more importantly, we’ve set a precedent. If the Transportation Department concedes any of the road should be maintained by the state, it’s hard to come back in the future and argue that all of it shouldn’t be.”

On the job front, Kilmer said he is pushing for more ways to make obtaining an education easier by giving credit for other training a student might have earned.

“We’ve got medics coming out of the Army with extremely valuable training and experience,” Kilmer said, citing just one example. “But when they try to get into nursing school, very little of that credit is transferred. It’s a huge waste.”

Asked what he thought about the protracted budget discussions, he said, “They were too long. What I want to accomplish is get us out of this economic mess and protect the taxpayers while making some structural changes in how Washington does business.

“It wasn’t easy having to keep telling the governor no,” Kilmer said. “But in the end, I just didn’t think the deal they came up with was good for my constituents.”

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