News

Transportation budget faces rough road

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s office reported this week that the state transportation budget has a $34.5 million pothole, due to decreased revenue from small truck tabs.

Most of the lost revenue would have been used to construct safety improvements and perform maintenance on state highways, Haugen said. She is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.

Legislators hoping to pass a supplemental budget that would fill the revenue gap face the option of cutting or delaying highway maintenance and safety projects, or raising monies some other way.

None of the proposed cuts would affect projects in Island County at this point, but Haugen said several are in District 10.

“That always gives me heartburn,” she said. “At this point everything is on the table.”

Highway 20 projects that might be cut or reduced are resurfacing and safety improvements from the Swinomish casino to Highway 526, and the Anacortes intersection at Sharp’s Corner.

Haugen said she prefers eliminating some tax exemptions, raising transportation fees that haven’t been raised in some time and using reserves.

“We just can’t afford to cut projects,” she said. “The safety of our roads and bridges depends on the maintenance and upgrades that we do, and that safety will be sacrificed if we put off these projects.”

Haugen credits I-776 with creating the budget shortfall. After the state Supreme Court upheld the initiative’s constitutionality in Oct. 2003, the state had to lower the gross-weight fee on small trucks to the passenger car rate of $30 per year.

Like a pothole that’s not patched, maintenance costs grow if not attended to, Haugen said.

“Cutting maintenance funding has a cumulative effect,” Haugen said. “Every dollar not spent on timely preventative maintenance costs up to $8 in complete reconstruction just a few years later.”

Haugen said possible areas of revenue include increasing car dealership fees, reducing gas company deductions and collecting taxes from oil companies monthly rather than the current two month cycle. Haugen estimated collecting the taxes monthly would recoup $2 million to $3 million annually.

Haugen realizes these moves would not be popular with the oil companies.

“People in the business don’t like to give those up,” she said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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