State commerce in the grip of the GOP

The News TribuneJune 28, 2013 

The job’s not done yet, lawmakers. Now it’s highway time.

It’s great that the Legislature’s Republicans and Democrats finally settled on a state operating budget that reportedly directs an additional $1 billion to schools. We’re looking forward to seeing the details, where the devil often resides.

But the passage of an operating budget was always a foregone conclusion, despite the months of bickering over its specific provisions. The Washington Constitution requires the Legislature to approve one.

A genuine accomplishment of this Legislature – that includes you, Republican senators – would be passage of a transportation budget to unplug bottlenecked corridors where the state’s freight and traffic are now getting slowly strangled.

The $10 billion package – approved Thursday by the House of Representatives – is of paramount importance to the state’s economy.

Only one Republican – Puyallup’s Hans Zeiger – had the guts to support it. Most other lawmakers in his party appear willing to kill it for one reason: The highway improvements require new tax revenue. These legislators chatter about massive reforms in the Department of Transportation and other near-term impossibilities, but it really comes down to evading a tax vote.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, roads and bridges don’t grow on trees. Santa Claus doesn’t lug them down the chimney. You’ve got to buy them.

If you don’t need them, that’s one thing. But Washington sorely needs strategic investment in its infrastructure – in Spokane, at Snoqualmie Pass, on Interstate 405 and other places where cargo and cars are getting halted for lack of road capacity.

State Route 167 is the poster child of lost economic opportunity. That highway passes from I-405 through Renton, Kent and Auburn – only to get guillotined at Puyallup. A mere six miles separate it from the Port of Tacoma and the I-5 corridor.

Those missing miles are a death trap for commerce and jobs. Manufacturers and farmers want fast, reliable access to markets – and the port can no longer guarantee that into the future. Washington is already losing an estimated 80,000 permanent jobs to that gap on SR 167, and the cost will only go up as shippers and exporters look for speedier alternatives.

Transportation investment was not always a partisan issue. An earlier generation of Republicans understood the connection between thriving businesses and efficient movement of goods and people.

But the party’s current anti-tax absolutism threatens serious damage to Washington’s economic future. That mindset has to give if the state GOP is to be taken seriously as a potential governing party. The loss of the transportation package would be inexcusable – and Republicans will bear full responsibility for the consequences.

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