Opinion

ANGEL | Let's fix it, before we ever fund it!

As a member of the House Transportation Committee, I know firsthand the challenges our state transportation system faces, the shrinking dollars from the gas tax as cars become more fuel efficient, and the growing inflation that takes more of a bite each year from construction dollars for transportation. There’s no escaping the fact that it takes money to keep our roads, highways, bridges and ferries operating and maintained. And it takes money to expand our state’s transportation system to relieve congestion and ensure the efficient movement of goods and people. That’s why a proposal was recently introduced in the House to raise the state’s gas tax by 10-cents a gallon, along with several other bills that could substantially increase motor vehicle taxes and fees.

I have never insulated myself within the marble walls that make up the state Capitol. Every chance I get, I return home to the 26th District to talk with people and make sure I get a dose of reality outside of Olympia. The reality is — people are still struggling. We have a very fragile economy and high unemployment.

We also have a large population of active military and civilians who work for the military. There’s much uncertainty about their economic future as Congress quibbles while sequestration sets in. That’s at the federal level, not the state level where I serve. I share your concerns and frustration that Congress and the president would allow our military servicemen and women to hang in the balance of an inability to reach a budget agreement. That is a discussion for your congressman. But any cuts from sequestration would certainly affect our local citizens’ ability to keep afloat in this challenging economy. Now is not the time to be adding to their burden.

Every time I drive by or stop at a gas station, prices are up another 10- to 15-cents a gallon. People are only buying what they can afford. How can we ask them for more? Washington motorists already pay the second highest state gas tax in the nation — 37.5 cents a gallon. Another dime a gallon would push our state to the highest gas tax in the United States.

I have tried to keep an open mind, because the state barely has the revenue to keep up with maintenance and operations of our existing highways and bridges. However, I also believe there’s lots of room for reforms within the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

For example, did you know that it costs two-and-a-half times more to build a road, highway or bridge in Washington than in other states, such as Idaho and Oregon? Why is that?

Why is it that taxpayers are getting stuck with the extra expenses of fixing leaky pontoons for the new 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington?

Why does it cost twice as much to build a ferry in Washington than in other states with ferries, such as Massachusetts?

How could WSDOT miscalculate where to build a ramp on Highway 16 – and then had to tear it down and start all over?

We have a broken system and there’s plenty of room for reform before going into taxpayers’ pockets. We need to “fit it before we fund it.”

Before I support new revenue for transportation, I want to know it will be put to good use to ensure our state’s economic growth.

For example, the unfinished link of Highway 167 between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma could expand freight mobility, reduce congestion and create many new jobs. For years, we’ve been promised funding to complete the Highway 167 link. Yet, it is always put at the bottom of the barrel. This latest gas tax plan includes funding a portion of Highway 167. Really, the writers of this proposal are just throwing us a bone in a feeble attempt to garner our support. I have joined with our Pierce County legislative delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, to say we must have Highway 167 totally funded before we consider supporting any state gas tax increases or new fees.

This plan should not just ask for your hard-earned money, it should demand reforms, and deliver major economic transportation projects that create private-sector jobs. Otherwise, an increase in the state gas tax would be more harmful than helpful to our citizens.

And I won’t support adding new burdens to the already difficult challenges being faced by our people in the 26th District.

Rep. Jan Angel is a Republican representing the 26th Legislative District.

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