Northwest NEWS

August 26, 2002

Front Page

City Council encourages approval of Ref. 51

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   The City of Woodinville recently held a public hearing concerning Referendum 51, the statewide transportation plan designed to help repair Washington's most unsafe roads and bridges, relieve gridlock and bolster state funding for public transportation.
   What it will cost
   Director of Public Works Mick Monken addressed the City Council to explain briefly the transportation-related taxes proposed by the referendum.
   • Gas Tax: A 9-cent-per-gallon increase in the statewide motor vehicle and special fuel tax. The increase would be phased in with two annual increases: 5 cents on Jan. 1, 2003, and 5 cents on Jan. 1, 2004.
   • Vehicle Sales Tax: A 1 percent increase in the sales tax on new and used vehicles. Revenue from the increase would be distributed to the Multimodal Fund.
   • Weight Fees: A 30 percent increase in gross weight fees for trucks over 10,000 pounds. The increase would be phased in with two annual increases of 15 percent each on Jan. 1, 2003, and Jan. 1, 2004.
   • Bond Authorization: $4.5 billion in bonds supported by gas tax revenues; $100 million in general obligation bonds, which may be used for multimodal projects.
   How city staff views the transportation problem
   A City of Woodinville Staff Report provided the Council with the city's analysis of the referendum.
   "The passing of (Initiatives) 695 and … 747 was a significant setback to statewide transportation operation for capital improvement and operational maintenance. The impacts varied among agencies but the overall effect has been felt through delays of capital improvement projects, drop in roadway maintenance services, drop in transit services, and statewide economic impacts. While Referendum Bill 51 would not be able to provide funds to fully recover from the impacts of highway spending deficiencies, it would provide funds for an increase in current transportation dollars to address some of the major regional congestion problems, provide needed maintenance and operations of the statewide highway system, and, in a lesser part, address some local issues. These are key improvements for the continued economic development of the state, particularly in the Puget Sound area.
   "… If Referendum Bill 51 does not pass, it can be expected that it would be several years before another statewide transportation bill is put before the voters, unless organized opposition (garners) majority support for an alternative. The effects of timely delay would be the continued delay for needed transportation improvement projects and possibly drops in maintenance and operations needs on state highways. It is expected that this would have a ripple effect on other state programs, as dollars from non-transportation programs will need to be routed to fund critical transportation needs such as safety and maintenance."
   Citizen comments
   Two lone souls – one from Woodinville, one from Seattle – stood before the City Council to express their views on the topic.
   A gentleman from Woodinville wondered if the proposed tax and fee package would solve the region's transportation problems … and to what degree.
   "What will be the financial impact upon the people of this state?" he said. "It seems to me that we clearly cannot continue on the path we are on with regard to how we finance huge projects.
   "As the average age of our population increases, which it is, the ability to contribute to this kind of funding decreases since most seniors who retire are on a relatively fixed income. …
   "Why not think of these facilities as a sort of utility, defined as unit-measured service, which translates to toll roads, toll bridges, and ferries that are self-supporting. In other words, people who use the facility the most, pay the most. Sort of the way you might run a business," the man from Woodinville said.
   A woman representing the Seattle Chamber of Commerce appeared before the Council on behalf of Ref. 51. She called the proposed measure "a balanced transportation package," acknowledging that it was "not going to solve all our problems;" but that it focused on projects of highest need.
   "Sooner or later," she said, "we are going to have to pay higher taxes (to address our region's transportation needs). The longer we wait, the more expensive (those projects become)."
   Council comments
   Council thanked the two speakers and had a little discussion about the ballot measure themselves.
   Council member Chuck Price said there was a lot of support for the user-fees that the man from Woodinville mentioned. He said the gasoline tax was, in essence, a user-fee. He supported Ref. 51.
   Council member Don Brocha said people are saying, "Don't take more taxes from me, but build more roads." Unfortunately, we can't have it both ways. Brocha supports Ref. 51.
   Council member Bob Miller noted that some council members take the bus to work, that car pools have been established at City Hall. He also said he'd been in Illinois recently and paid seven tolls in seven miles.
   "They weren't much," said Miller, "but they helped defray (road expenses)."
   Miller supports Ref. 51.
   Mayor Scott Hageman said, "Our transportation system is truly in the state of disrepair and is vastly overused. Unfortunately, we can't go back to the way we were.
   Businesses are leaving the state, going elsewhere. (With roadways the way they are), who can blame them?
   "(Supporting Ref. 51) is the right thing to do, a decision that needs to be made. It is not a perfect proposal, but it will make a significant change to our transportation system," said Hageman.
   He encouraged citizens to try to leave the car at home once in awhile, to take the bus, walk or bike.
   "Our city is committed to multimodal transportation. This will give us the funds to begin."
   Why the Council supports Ref. 51
   After discussion, the City Council voted unanimously to support Referendum 51. The Council's reasons for support are outlined in Resolution 234, which declares the city's support of and encourages approval of the statewide transportation plan, Ref. 51, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.
   • "… The Puget Sound Region has been rated among the worst congested regions in the nation; and
   • The ability to move people and goods on our transportation system is essential to the livability and economic vitality of the Puget Sound Region and our state; and
   • There have been no increases in the state gas tax since 1991 to provide funding for major state transportation improvements, and the state has realized a reduction of 21 percent in overall state funding for transportation as a result of initiatives; and
   • The unfunded need for transportation improvements in the Puget Sound Region alone has grown to a level of $30 billion as determined by the Puget Sound Regional Council's Destination 2030 Plan; and
   • A well-functioning transportation system is essential to retaining and attracting companies that provide economic viability and family-wage jobs to the Puget Sound Region and the state of Washington; and …
   • Improvements to regional facilities such as I-405 are necessary to accommodate the intent and spirit of the Growth Management Act and to allow urban areas to continue to manage future growth; and
   • Funding from Referendum 51 would contribute to necessary transportation improvements that will provide significant mobility and economic benefits for the citizens, employers and visitors of Woodinville."