Bridge bailout exacts too high a toll

I’ve thought hard about the direct impact that issues of taxes and tolls have on my constituents’ economic realities.

That’s why I’m disappointed to see The News Tribune, in a March 8 editorial, applaud the passage of House Bill 2990, which requires more toll increases and additional loans for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

At the heart of HB 2990 is an attempt to create a long-term fix to the escalating debt payments on the bridge.

Under the legislation, the state loans the Tacoma Narrows Bridge account $85 million, a 25-cent toll increase is authorized beginning in 2022, and tolling is extended beyond the current 2032 end date until the loan is paid off.

I opposed the bill because I think this is a bad deal for our region, despite all the good intention behind it.

No one disagrees that we need a solution to the financing set up for the bridge, which was flawed from the beginning. When the new bridge opened in 2007, it was financed by general obligation bonds that would be repaid over time in increasing amounts through the collection of tolls.

Years of lower-than-forecast toll revenue and increasing debt payments have created an unsustainable course requiring more and more toll increases.

To fill the gap, the Legislature has on multiple occasions taken steps to prevent toll increases. I voted in favor of such efforts twice – once in 2016 and again in 2017.

In order to develop a long-term solution, a bipartisan legislative work group on which I served came up with a plan: Transfer $125 million of non-toll state funding towards paying off the debt each year and prohibit any and all further toll increases.

Instead of bad loans, our community would get its fair share and help deal with a critical economic lifeline for our region. As a result, I sponsored a bill, HB 2834, that would have implemented that clean and simple fix.

Unfortunately, the Legislature moved forward with HB 2990 instead of the work group’s recommendation and HB 2834.

Searching for a long-term solution instead of year-by-year fixes is a worthy cause, and one that I’ve supported as well. For that reason, I very much respect my colleagues in their work on this issue, but raising tolls and extending the number of years they’ll be collected doesn’t feel like a winning solution to me.

As we look to repair and maintain public roads, bridges and highways throughout our region, I believe Pierce County taxpayers deserve a solution that involves a significant state investment, not an additional $85 million in debt to be repaid.

I promised voters that I’d take tough stands in their interest, and I remain committed to that principle. In Olympia, I will continue to stand up against toll and tax increases that unfairly burden our residents – even if that means standing alone.

State Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, represents Washington’s 28th Legislative District. Reach her by email at Christine.Kilduff@leg.wa.gov

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/op-ed/article207233189.html#storylink=cpy