Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

WA Mileage Charge To Replace Gas Tax Gaining Speed ?

by Matt Rosenberg January 27th, 2014

A special state advisory group issued a new report this month to lawmakers and Governor Jay Inslee that there is a viable business case for a road user charge in Washington to replace the failing by-the-gallon state gas tax. Consultants and members of the steering body January 23rd gave an update to the legislature’s House Transportation Committee on the findings, and are now seeking almost $1 million more before the current session ends so they can refine operational concepts, policy particulars, a pilot program and transition strategies.

The state Road Usage Charge Steering Committee’s latest report says that if rates were held constant until 2040 the road user charge – a more sweeping approach than current piecemeal electronic tolling in the Seattle region – would yield $2 billion to $3 billion more in net revenue than the gas tax for surface transportation needs in the state. The report says any of the three user charge methods considered would help ensure “everyone pays more of their fair share for using the roads.”

Now, ever-more fuel efficient internal combustion engine vehicles and their electric and hybrid counterparts pay a lower share of upkeep for the road system because they use less gas while still adding to wear and tear. State reports in recent years have projected that the current gas tax would produce $5 billion less by 2023 than earlier forecasted due to better average mileage and the gradual rise of electrics and hybrids; and that the purchasing power of Washington’s gas tax revenues have been cut by half between 2001 and 2011 from a 77 percent jump in the Construction Cost Index.

State Will Need to Find $2.4B to Ease Salmon Barriers

by Matt Rosenberg January 22nd, 2014

The minimum cost of complying with a 2013 federal court order to fix by 2030 some 1,019 Washington State Department of Transportation-owned culverts posing barriers to salmon passage will be a whopping $2.4 billion, lawmakers have learned. But “lack of future funding and technical complexity are creating obstacles to planning and delivery,” according to an agency presentation last week to the House Transportation Committee. Culverts are tunnel- or pipe-like structures embedded in soil to carry water, often salmon-bearing streams, under roads, railroads and trails.

WSDOT culvert at Fortson Creek on State Route 530 west of Darrington; before replacement - Source: WSDOT

Funding Sources Unclear Right Now
In an interview the Director of WSDOT’s Environmental Services Office Megan White, who led the agency presentation to the committee, said it’s not clear where the money might come from. But she said the first step this session is “talking to legislative leaders and decision makers about the challenge in front of us, in hopes there will be some focus” on developing a funding strategy.

$200M Eyed For ‘15-’17 Biennium
The agency is currently expecting to recommend inclusion of $200 million in in the 2015-17 state budget for court-ordered culvert work on project scoping, design and construction. WSDOT would expect to request successively higher amounts in following state budgets, and now has just about $20 million it can carry forward into the next budget for that, according to White. She added, “The level of funding goes beyond what the agency can provide from existing resources. We don’t want to be in the position of testing what non-compliance means,” with respect to the U.S. court order.

AG’s Office: Compliance Would Be A ‘Heavy Lift’
Senior Assistant Attorney General Joseph Shorin said the “sweeping” federal injunction poses a “heavy lift” for the state with a financial compliance burden that’s “extremely expensive.” Although the state is appealing, it also must at present proceed as if the ruling will stay in force, he said; there is no “stay” or suspension of the court’s directive during the appeal.

Public Data Ferret’s Washington State+Environment archive

Tribes and U.S. Sued State
In the case, U.S. v. Washington, 21 Native American tribes and the federal government sued Washington alleging that mid-1800s treaties guaranteeing tribes the right to take fish also require the state to avoid actions that reduce yields, but that improperly built or poorly maintained culverts under state roads have done exactly that. Some culverts empty back into the steam from too high a height or move water at too high a velocity, others are filled with forest debris.

The case area is roughly the northwestern third of Washington state and its many rivers and streams from which salmon swim to Puget Sound and to which they return – or try to return – to spawn. The federal ruling also includes a much smaller number of culverts overseen by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources, and Washington State Parks, which must be remedied by 2016.

County, Local Barrier Culverts Are Many, But Not Included
However the targeted state culverts don’t include thousands more in Washington which also pose barriers to salmon passage but aren’t required to be fixed. According to another presentation to the committee last week by DFW, county and local government associations, another 2,264 salmon barrier culverts are operated by county governments and 783 overseen by cities in the case area.

Maximizing Bang-for-Buck
With almost $300,000 in county and local fuel tax revenues DFW will help “inventory, prioritize and study” those barriers with results submitted to lawmakers by the end of June next year. The state, county and local governments are hoping to develop a coordinated approach based on watersheds, “prioritizing work up and down the streams that could have the largest impact on fish recovery.”

SR 530 Fortson Creek WSDOT culvert with new stream crossing - Source: WSDOT

According to a presentation to the committee last week by Shorin of the AG’s Office, the court order directs the state to fix its salmon barrier culverts preferably by avoiding “the need for the roadway to cross the stream” or failing that, by building a “full-span bridge.” The last option is to use a ‘”stream simulation methodology.”

Private Sector Initiative
In the meantime, noted the Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Forest Protection Association in their own presentation to legislators last week, forestry companies and small landowners have spent at least $18 million to repair some 5,142 smaller salmon habitat barriers on private land, but at least 585 such projects remain. To date, 285 salmon barrier culverts overseen by WSDOT have been corrected.

The $2.4 billion estimate for fixing the remaining WSDOT culverts doesn’t include those identified as salmon barriers after the court ruling, nor does it include the 10 percent of the total that the court said can be deferred past 2030.


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

State Parks Repair Backlog $463M; Current Funding Scant

by Matt Rosenberg December 30th, 2013

Washington State Parks have a backlog of deferred maintenance projects valued at $463 million now, up from $373 million in 2001, according to a new report to the legislature from the state parks and recreation commission. Current legislative funding for the backlog is a scant $7 million. The news comes as the parks system continues to wrestle with tough new fiscal realities sure to require more reliance on outside revenue and far less from Olympia.

Congressional Budget Office: Hey USA, Pick Your Poison

by Matt Rosenberg October 7th, 2013

The charged public debate over yet another U.S. debt ceiling lift is just the tip of the iceberg. Today’s tussles over near-term U.S. borrowing capacity only foreshadow deeper federal fiscal challenges. A recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office stressed that federal debt has worsened greatly since fiscal year-end 2008, and absent bold intervention will jump dramatically as health care and other entitlements continue to escalate, and new costs grow from U.S. health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. “That trajectory for federal debt would ultimately be unsustainable,” CBO says.

The CBO report says, “Federal debt held by the public stood at 39 percent of GDP at the end of 2008, close to its average of the preceding several decades. Since then, large deficits have caused debt held by the public to grow sharply – to a projected 73 percent of GDP by the end of 2013. Debt has exceeded 70 percent of GDP during only one other period in U.S. history: from 1944 through 1950, when it spiked because of a surge in federal spending during World War II….”

What’s Open, Closed During U.S. Government Shutdown

by Matt Rosenberg October 1st, 2013

The U.S. government today is shut down due to a Congressional budget impasse on continued funding in the new fiscal year but of 34 very public-facing agencies or programs listed in a special update from USA.gov, 18 are still open, nine more are partially open and seven are closed. Shuttered are national parks and landmarks, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., presidential libraries, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution. Loans by the Small Business Administration aren’t being processed, nor are new home loan guarantees by the Federal Housing Administration,

Open for Business
Still operating during the shutdown are food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); federal grants to states for low-income women, infants and children; the Federal Aviation Administration including air traffic controllers; the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Air Marshall Service; State Department travel warnings; border patrol and cargo security; citizenship and immigration services; immigration enforcement; the Coast Guard; the Federal Emergency Management Agency; federal courts; the Federal Reserve; meat and poultry inspections; FAFSA student loan processing; the Health Insurance Marketplace; mail and postal service; the patent and trademark office; and the National Weather Service.

Partly or Mostly Open
Limited personnel are on duty at the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. Updated U.S. government job information will continue to be posted online but some applications may be slowed. Medicare and Medicaid benefits will continue to be paid but “could be affected in the event of an extended shutdown.” Medical care for veterans goes on but some benefit programs “may be affected.”

The military is still in operation but Department of Defense civilian employees deemed non-essential are not reporting to work. Clinical trials already in progress at the National Institutes of Health continue but new trials aren’t being initiated and new patients are not being accepted at NIH’s clinical center. Expedited passport orders are being fulfilled but new passport applications are not.

RELATED: “Affordable Care Act and the Appropriations Process,” U.S. Congressional Research Service, 9/27/13.


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Privatize management of Lynnwood’s golf course, report urges

by Matt Rosenberg March 4th, 2013

In a report to be presented tonight to the Lynnwood City Council, the city’s director of parks and recreation strongly recommends the city privatize the management its troubled, money-losing golf course. The facility was the subject of a critical state audit in December because it has relied on continued bailouts from the city’s utility fund including a $1.3 million chunk of recent borrowing repaid slowly enough to constitute a “permanent diversion” of funds in violation of state law, auditors said. The city pledged to explore new options including closing or selling the course, or contracting out its management. The new report says the latter would “produce significant cost savings and efficiencies coupled with a strong marketing approach to produce higher revenues.”

Tumwater at odds with state on loans for failing golf course

by Matt Rosenberg February 19th, 2013

A recently-issued report from Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley says the City of Tumwater is breaking state law by continuing to fund its money-losing golf course with revenues from its utility fund which are paid back so slowly the loans are a “permanent diversion” of taxpayer monies. The public facility owed nearly $2 million as of December but the city says it won’t change its practices because keeping the land open and green is crucial to connecting regional recreation assets, and the course will eventually see an uptick in revenues from hoped-for redevelopment of the adjacent Brewery District. Tumwater’s response stands in sharp contrast to that of two other Washington cities recently faced with similar audit findings about public golf courses beset by red ink. Lynnwood in Snohomish County is exploring contracting out the operation of its golf course or selling it, and Sumner in Pierce County says it will seek to sell its facility.