Opinion editorial by Bruce Chandler: Fix it before you fund it

By Rep. Bruce Chandler

Special to the Yakima Valley Business Times

 

Washington has the second highest gas tax in the country at 37.5 cent per gallon. A recent proposal by House Democrats to fund new projects and maintain current roadways would increase your gas tax by 10 cents per gallon, among other increases in fees and taxes. This would make Washington the highest taxed state for gas in the nation.

Recent investigations by the media and others have brought to light several instances of waste within the Department of Transportation, as well as serious design flaws that have cost taxpayers. Meanwhile, thousands of people are struggling to find jobs and make ends meet. We must fix the Department of Transportation before you fund it.

People deserve to know what they are getting for the taxes and fees they pay. In the Yakima Valley, we have seen the Highway 82 interchange rebuilt to improve traffic flow and provide better access to businesses. State Route 22 from Highway 82 to Toppenish was widened and shoulders were added to make it safer. The Nile Valley landslide on State Route 410 required a complete reconstruction.

While these provide benefits to drivers, taxpayers are paying a hefty price for these improvements. In a recent House Transportation Committee meeting, the Department of Transportation reported that about 16 percent of every transportation project is spent on environmental mitigation. This includes costs to address stormwater pollution, wetland and stream mitigation, as well as noise mitigation.

The purpose of mitigation is to avoid and minimize the impact of construction on natural habitats and ecosystems. However, too many “mitigation” projects fail to fulfill their intended purpose. Furthermore, stormwater pollution, which the Department cites as the highest cost of environmental mitigation, has little science to back up the efforts being put forth to address what is deemed a problem with stormwater runoff. We must review the environmental requirements to determine if they are actually helping the environment, and not simply spend money with good intentions.

Did you know the Department of Transportation must pay sales tax on the materials it purchases for projects? This means the state will essentially transfer $632 million meant for transportation purposes to the state operating budget within the transportation package passed in 2005. We must end this practice of the state paying itself.

I will continue to work for the hardworking people who cannot afford to pay more at the pump. We can and must stretch your tax dollars further before the Legislature tries to reach further into your pockets.

Rep. Bruce Chandler lives in Granger and represents the 15th Legislative District in east Yakima County. He can be reached by phone at (509) 786-7960

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Washington State House Republican Communications
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