Mayor Lester signs letter to Olympia

Council Member Debbi Lester has joined a long list of other Washington mayors who have come together to send a message to lawmakers in Olympia.

Lester added her signature to a letter designed to convey the urgent need to increase funding for local transportation needs — the current system isn’t cutting it.

“This letter is a broader view of the principles of cities on what they would like to see come out of a transportation package,” said Ashley Probart, legislative and policy advocate for the Association of Washington Cities. “We want to be involved with our own rescue which means local transportation options that work.”

For example, the letter claims that while local governments receive 11 cents out of the $.375 gas tax, the construction cost index has risen by 77 percent. The ultimate purpose of the letter is to encourage legislators to pass a transportation package to meet the needs of Washington’s cities and support local transportation options. Mainly needed is funding for roads projects, an issue islanders are familiar with.

“This is the first time in nearly 15 years that a local transportation options bill has been presented which provides greater authority for local jurisdictions,” Lester said.

Probart said that previous transportation packages passed in Washington have given a significant share to the state. He noted the packages passed in 2003 and 2005 which instated a 14.5 cent gas tax, but only 1 cent was given to cities and counties.

“That half a penny is 16 million dollars a year divided by the four million city residents in Washington State,” Probart said. “That’s about $4 per capita.”

According to Lester, the letter is also partially in support of SB 6582 which is currently being considered by legislators in Olympia. The bill has three focuses. It would allow counties the option to have voter approved gas taxes ranging from one to three cents that would be split 60/40 between the county and the city. It would allow voter approved motor vehicle excise taxes that again would be shared between the county and city at a 60/40 split. It also provides the option of instituting a vehicle fee of up to $40 — separate than tab fees.

“The fee is something the city could consider. To date we, as a council have opted not to,” Lester said. “…this is either a city or county option.”

Lester also noted two other transportation bills being considered by lawmakers, SB 6455 and SB 6150, which she cites as “fee bills” that could create more revenue for transportation purposes. She said that the new revenue would enable $130 million that would fund the Transportation Improvement Board and the Safe Routes to Schools programs.

“We locally have benefitted from both those programs,” Lester said. “Transportation Improvement Board funding covered much of the Winslow Way Reconstruction and the Public Works Department has been successful in receiving grants from the Safe Routes to Schools program.”

Probart said that with the transportation packages currently being considered in Olympia, a larger share of revenue may find its way to local governments for transportation purposes.

Attached to the letter is a list of principles they ask legislators to adhere to: provide stable funding for the state’s transportation system; allocate funds to cities in the most effective way possible including grants for smaller cities; and provide long-term funding to help keep pace with federal or state-initiated mandates among other ideals.

Lester’s signature joins 21 others, so far, from large and small cities from Port Townsend to Spokane.


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