Rep. Skyler Rude: Transportation package lacks bipartisan support
Last week, majority party transportation leaders rolled out their vision for the future of Washington state's transportation system through the Move Ahead Washington proposal. There are some good goals and projects within this proposal. However, while state revenues remain high, people are still economically recovering from the pandemic, and our transportation system has a massive backlog of projects.
The focus of the Move Ahead Washington plan is mostly for the transportation needs of the west side of the Cascades.
The U.S. Highway 12 widening project between the Snake River (near Burbank) to Walla Walla has made significant progress in past years. However, we need to complete the remaining ten miles between PCA and Nine Mile Hill. The completion of this project will benefit residents, businesses – including our agricultural and wine industries between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, and the traveling public through improved safety. This project was not included in the Move Ahead Washington proposal.
Another concern is the increase of fees this proposal hopes to enact. While it does not raise the state's gas tax for the first time in a long time, there are fee increases that will impact every Washingtonian.
For decades, the transportation budget has relied primarily on driver-related fees to pay for all transportation modes and needs without assistance from the state general fund. Our state has expected drivers to pay for a transportation system that includes many aspects unrelated to drivers. It's a funding model that is not fair, equitable, or resilient.
Both Republicans and Democrats believe the status quo transportation budgeting is no longer working. We differ in how to modernize our transportation system and how to fund it.
House Republicans introduced a series of bills at the beginning of the 2022 session that would have created a sustainable transportation funding model by redirecting $3.2 billion from the state general fund to transportation needs beginning in the 2025-27 budget cycle – without raising taxes and fees on anyone or anything.
The state's general fund has more than $8.8 billion in surplus, $1.8 billion in the budget stabilization account, and $1.2 billion left of the state's share of federal coronavirus relief.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I work hard to ensure the allocation of state funds goes toward programs that benefit all Washingtonians. I support the concept of transferring general fund dollars into the transportation budget to ensure we begin to fix our state's transportation system and preserve critical infrastructure.
As part of the House Republicans comprehensive transportation funding plan, I sponsored House Bill 1607, which would investigate a shift of the Safe Routes to School Program to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) with direction to better coordinate funding with the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for safe pathways to new schools.
OSPI has the best and most up-to-date knowledge and information about every public school across the state. My bill would provide an opportunity for OSPI and WSDOT to analyze this much-used program and determine if students would be better served to have the program administered by OSPI rather than through the Department of Transportation.
Safe Routes to School is a national program that receives federal funding allocated to state transportation departments to make infrastructure improvements so children will have safe routes to travel to school. The program provides funding for new pathways for bicycle and pedestrian travel and educational programs on safe travel.
I was disappointed the bill was not considered, especially when one of the Move Ahead Washington proposal priorities is allocating millions of dollars toward walking and biking projects to expand reliable infrastructure and services. I cannot think of a better program to shift the funding source to the general fund than a program that benefits student safety to and from school.
Transportation budgeting has historically been a bipartisan process. It was frustrating to see minority legislators not invited to develop this package. I hope both parties can come together for the remainder of the 2022 session and consider a full suite of options to benefit all Washingtonians.
It is truly an honor to represent you and be your voice in Olympia. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve.
Editor's note: Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla serves the 16th Legislative District.
Op-ed as published in The Dayton Chronicle and the Prosser Record-Bulletin