The talk on tolls
State politics reporter Stevie Mathieu and Transportation Reporter Eric Florip (who gamely came back to the office last night after the tolling bill passed the house), have a bit more for your reading pleasure:
Miss Wednesday night’s legislative debate on tolling the Interstate 5 Bridge? We’ve got you covered.
The state House of Representatives approved a bill authorizing tolls to help pay for the bridge’s replacement, the more than $3 billion Columbia River Crossing. The 65-33 vote followed an earlier Senate vote, sending the bill to Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Not surprisingly, plenty of Clark County voices have figured prominently into the discussion along the way.
First, some highlights from last night’s House floor debate in Olympia:
REP. ED ORCUTT, R-KALAMA
Orcutt tried to add an amendment to the bill that would grant tolling authority, but only if the state of Oregon provides an income tax credit for Washingtonians paying the toll on their way to work. The amendment failed during a House vote.
“If our folks are going to pay disproportionately for the bridge, then the tolls they pay for the bridge should be credited against the amount that they pay in income tax in the state of Oregon,” Orcutt said.
Orcutt also said the gas tax should cover more of the CRC’s cost. He said Clark County gets back just 61 cents for every dollar it puts into the gas tax.
“I’m hearing a lot of concerns from citizens in my district about having to pay a toll on this bridge,” Orcutt said. “One of the things that they’re really concerned about is the fact that they’re going to bear the larger burden of this than what people in Oregon are going to bear because of the tolls.”
REP. PAUL HARRIS, R-VANCOUVER
Harris said 40,000 commuters travel into Portland from Washington state every day for work, and they end up paying about 11 percent of their income to Oregon.
“And they really get nothing in return,” Harris said. “There is no equity.”
REP SHARON WYLIE, D-VANCOUVER
Wylie characterized tolling as a fair way to collect money for the project, and a better option than raising taxes.
“This bridge is very important to our community and to our region and to the West Coast,” Wylie said. “The bridge is dangerous. It has to be replaced.”
“Tolls are the ultimate user fee,” Wylie said. “Tolls are indeed fair. Without the tolling option, the local share that is going to have to be arrived at somehow will be relying on sales tax or property tax, leaving all of the folks passing through not paying their fair share.”
“This tolling issue is controversial but it is a piece of moving forward,” Wylie said. “The tolls are not going to go into place until the whole plan is in place.”
Other reaction came in after the bill had cleared the House.
REP. JIM MOELLER, D-VANCOUVER
Moeller released a separate statement after Wednesday’s vote. He called tolling the best way to spread the cost among people who use the Interstate 5 Bridge. The full statement:
“The tolling authorized in this legislation (which passed the House, 65-33) is in fact a principal funding mechanism for mega-projects now underway around our state. The Transportation Commission could impose tolling on the Columbia River Crossing to fund the local share. The state share will still be coming in an appropriation when voters pass a new-projects package.
“Tolls are actually the most conservative strategy for financing the project. Folks who use the bridge will pay for the bridge — it’s the ultimate user’s fee!
“Some folks have suggested that Oregon should give us a rebate on income taxes paid by Washington citizens who work in that state. Frankly, although it might feel good to send such a zinger at Oregon, they’re already exempted from paying our sales tax. Although I could certainly support the elimination of that tax give-away, it’s not worth it to stop the bridge project. After all, we’re talking about 16,000 jobs here!
“Tolling is the way to spread out the cost to everyone who uses the bridge, no matter where they live.”
Madore, a Vancouver businessman, has long been a strong critic of the CRC. Contacted by The Columbian on Wednesday evening, Madore later sent a statement of his own. He noted a recent Oregon Supreme Court opinion on the CRC, in which Chief Justice Paul De Muniz said it was “politically impossible for the light rail project to proceed without also building new interstate bridges across the Columbia River.” Madore also pointed to work done by Vancouver forensic accountant Tiffany Couch, whom he hired to comb through the project’s finances.
Madore’s full statement:
“It is tragic that as the Oregon Supreme Court exposes the CRC Light Rail Tolling project as a bait and switch scam to deceive Clark County taxpayers, as a certified fraud investigator and forensic accountant has documented every red flag that points to fraud and corruption, as the bureaucracies continue to hold back records that could reveal where the missing millions went, that those entrusted with the responsibility of making sound financial decisions and guarding the public treasury so blatantly betray that trust by authorizing tolls for light rail while ignoring the voice of the people most harmed by this disaster.
“This kind of foolish waste and squandering of our taxes is rousing good people to get involved to restore common sense to our dysfunctional government.”
— Eric Florip and Stevie Mathieu