Regional plan needs to be more flexible

Washington lawmakers have apparently latched onto the idea of a regional option similar to the one approved over the weekend by the state Senate as a way to make their statewide transportation plan more palatable.

On paper, it works like this: In addition to whatever combination of gas and Motor Vehicle Excise taxes residents all over Washington are asked to accept (or reject, assuming the matter goes to a public vote), residents of the state’s most conjested counties — King, Pierce and Snohomish — will also be given the ability to vote themselves higher property taxes to pay for local transportation projects like widening SR-405 and improving the Alaska Way Viaduct.

The regional component has appeal for lawmakers from rural parts of the state, who would have had a tough time selling their consituents in Pend Orielle County, for example, on the idea of paying higher taxes to ease the commute for someone living in King County.

Unfortunately, the regional idea as currently envisioned lacks enough flexibility to make it either fair or practical.

Many Kitsap lawmakers would prefer a scheme that would allow voters in this county to participate in the regional plan as a means of funding improvements to the SR-16 corridor. At the same time, representatives from Pierce and Snohomish counties — including Port Orchard Sen. Bob Oke, whose district includes Gig Harbor — recognize the possibility that their constituents could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of voters in King County and forced to pay for road improvements in Seattle and Bellevue while getting no help with their own local projects, such as the Narrows Bridge.

In such cases, it seems reasonable to create an option by which counties could choose not to participate in regional funding solutions. But, of course, King County representatives would oppose an opt-in/opt-out provision because it would almost certainly leave their constituents picking up the entire tab for their own road improvements instead of being able to vote a portion of the burden onto their neighbors to the north and south.

And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?

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