OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state House unveiled its transportation budget proposal Tuesday, calling for a $1 billion jump from last year’s budget thanks to an influx of federal stimulus money.
Lawmakers say the $8.5 billion budget will create 3,000 jobs while focusing spending on existing projects throughout the state. The increase in federal money will go to projects such as a $590 million high-speed rail corridor, increased funding for the North Spokane Corridor, and reconstruction work on State Route 410, which was damaged by a landslide.
“It’s all about getting jobs on the ground,” said House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.
The state’s transportation budget for the 2009-2011 biennium is already facing a $121 million drop in revenue, and unlike the Senate’s $8.6 billion proposal released Monday, the House’s version calls for no additional cuts. House leaders instead say the deficit will be covered by lower-than-expected construction bids. The slower economy is forcing contractors to make lower bids to get work, they said.
In addition to including federal stimulus money, the House’s proposal calls for $32 million more for fuel costs and $3 million for storm water treatment. The state will also spend $2.2 million on staff costs associated with implementing the $590 million in federal money for improvements to the rail corridor that runs from Oregon to British Columbia along Interstate 5.
This year’s supplemental budget will expand on the $7.5 billion transportation budget that legislators approved last year, already the largest in the state’s history, lawmakers said. The proposal is scheduled to be voted out of committee Wednesday.
Also Tuesday, the House introduced a trimmed-back state construction budget, with lawmakers saying the bond capacity available to pay for projects must be reduced this year because of declining state revenues.
More than $168 million in cuts were proposed, including a nearly $110 million reduction on a grant for K-12 public school construction through 2011. The House assumed another $100 million in savings due to construction work bids coming in about 20 percent less than original project cost estimates, as well as projects that will not move forward.
The proposed construction budget also assumes a pollution-tax plan pushed by environmentalists that would nearly triple the state’s existing hazardous substances tax, which was approved by voters in 1988.
The bill has passed out of the House Committee on Capital Budget and awaits a hearing before the House Finance Committee.
The tax is levied on oil products, pesticides and other chemicals and is earmarked for environmental cleanup projects. About $5 million of that tax would go to Puget Sound restoration, and $49 million would go to storm water cleanup.
The construction budget also sets aside $200 million for a plan that would launch a statewide package of energy-efficient school makeovers. The plan is aimed at spurring specialized construction jobs and capturing electricity savings at public buildings. Rep. Hans Dunshee says the energy projects — combined with $100 million in housing seed money — would create an estimated 19,500 jobs.
“We want to put as much money to work as possible,” he said.
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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