February 20, 2020

Lawmakers Balance Transportation Cuts, Growing State

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
State Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, chairs the House Transportation Committee. He met with AWB employers and lobbyists to discuss the state transportation budget at AWB's final 2020 Lobby Lunch. 
(Photo: Lori J. Maricle/AWB.)

Fish culverts and careful cuts to state transportation projects highlighted AWB's final Lobby Lunch of 2020.

Rep. Jake Fey, chair of the House Transportation Committee, said he's focused on dealing with a shortfall in the state transportation budget created by passage of Initiative 976 in November. The initiative cut about $454 million from the current transportation budget, and an estimated $680 million in the next budget.

"We have a lot of pride in what we've done because we've gone into the detail," said Fey, D-Tacoma. "So we know, and have…the information from WSDOT about where to do the cutting and that was a lot of our basis for…taking care of the shortfall on the highway projects."

Fey listed not doing lasting damage to the transportation system and looking at the situation as a "bump in the road" among his priorities while creating the new budget.

"You won't see any cuts to preservation," he said. " You won't see any new revenue -- you'll see strategic reductions."

Fey also addressed the ongoing work to remove and improve state road culverts that block the passage of fish. A federal court has ordered the state to fix the culverts in order to respect tribal fishing rights.

"With respect to culverts, you'll see an acknowledgement that this work needs to get done, needs to be funded," Fey said.

Fey has previously said the total cost to update the road culverts is about $3.7 billion. The state's total transportation budget, as approved last year, was about $10 billion.

The state has until 2030 to fix the problem, which involves roughly 1,000 culverts.

State Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, discusses the state transportation budget with employers at Thursday's Lobby Lunch. (Photo: Lori J. Maricle/AWB)
The committee's ranking member, Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, described a positive working relationship with Fey. He said they worked together to identify priorities this year, including special needs transportation, the state patrol, maintenance and preservation projects.

Barkis also said he's looked at the expense side of highway spending, rather than just seeking to raise more revenue.

"It's pretty amazing when you start to look at some projects, that you find there's quite a bit of money that has not been spent yet," Barkis said. Some projects are not quite ready to be executed, for example.

Barkis also said there are some fish culvert projects that cost millions that have resulted in zero recovery of fish.

"We believe that they should be prioritized to achieve the greatest outcomes for actual habitat restoration and fish recovery," Barkis said.

House and Senate Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers, are expected to release their 2020 supplemental budget proposals on Monday. The Associated Press reports.

The session is scheduled to end on Thursday, March 12.