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Published on Thursday, November 14, 2013

Senate Majority Coalition Caucus releases transportation proposal

Last Saturday the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) released their transportation revenue proposal to stakeholders and other legislators. AWC is highly supportive of a transportation revenue package and we are extremely encouraged with the release of the MCC proposal. It appears that negotiations have been productive and that an agreement is getting closer. To reiterate AWC’s priorities in a statewide transportation package, cities have been advocating for the following:

  • Direct distribution of gas tax to cities at historical percentages.
  • Enhanced local transportation revenue options.
  • Increased funding for state grant programs, such as the Transportation Improvement Board (TIB), Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board (FMSIB), Safe Routes to Schools, Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program, and Complete Streets Program.

In summary, this proposal is a $12.3 billion package, over 12 years. It includes an 11.5 cent gas tax increase. (The version that passed the House in June was nearly $10 billion with a 10.5 cent gas tax increase). Details of the Senate proposal are available at the links below:

AWC has provided some constructive comments to the negotiators and has indicated willingness to assist as more details are fleshed out, particularly on the reform ideas. As negotiations continue it is important for cities to continue to communicate your support to your legislators. Here are AWC’s general comments:

Direct distribution. The MCC provides nearly double in direct distribution to cities and counties than the House version does. We are very pleased with the increase. It is clear that legislators have heard the need for funds to address street maintenance issues.

Local options. We are also very appreciative of the inclusion of local revenue options. Increasing the councilmanic authority for Transportation Benefit Districts (TBD) from $20 to $40 would be an important tool for cities to fund street repairs and maintenance. The MCC proposal would require that a TBD have a $20 fee imposed for two years before adopting a $40 fee. We would prefer more flexibility with this tool, but we still appreciate it being included.

AWC is also supportive of the King county only MVET local option. This will be an important tool for funding transit and roads for cities in the county.

Grant programs. Since TIB funds both cities and urban counties and CRAB funds exclusively counties, giving equal funds to both agencies would have the effect of steering more dollars to counties at a time where most of the population growth is occurring in cities. We suggested a split that would ensure a more equal level of funding between cities and counties.

Many of our cities are also very supportive of the various bike and pedestrian grant programs and would support increased funding for those.

Environmental permitting. AWC supports efforts to streamline permitting and would also hope that cities also benefit from any streamlining proposals. While we believe that we can be largely supportive as more details are fleshed out, we have some concerns about exemptions for WSDOT on local permits and potential liability for local governments. We have offered assistance in helping the Legislature to find solutions that address these concerns.

Stormwater costs associated with transportation projects funded via Environmental Legacy Stewardship Account (ELSA). ELSA is a component of Model Toxics Control Account (MTCA) funds which are already oversubscribed and are used for many critical local needs including toxic cleanups and grants for local stormwater projects. Under current law, the state and locals have equal access to these funds. We are concerned that these funds would become even more limited under this proposal. If the Legislature decides to expand the permissible ELSA funds, we would request that they only be used for retrofit projects, not new WSDOT construction projects. In addition, we would ask that the funding be available through a competitive process open to state and local projects with priority given to projects with greatest water quality benefit.

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