Toll-dependent Columbia River Crossing halted by Roach inquiry

by lewwaters

In a press release today issued by State Senator Pam Roach, by the same title, we read:

         For Immediate Release:                                  For Interview Contact:

March 12, 2013                                                       Sen. Pam Roach (360) 786-7660

Toll-dependent Columbia River Crossing halted by Roach inquiry

OLYMPIA… Despite the Supreme Court’s decision last month to throw out the Initiative 1185 requirement two-thirds vote for tax increases, it is now required that certain transportation fee and toll increases be approved by the Legislature. This includes the proposed Columbia River Crossing Project.

“This should be a big wake up call to proponents of the CRC project and similar projects throughout the state,” said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. “In response my inquiry to the attorney general’s office, I received a letter written by the Office of Financial Management on March 8 stating that the Transportation Commission no longer has the authority to impose tolls needed to fund the CRC due to provisions in I-1185.”

On Dec. 5, Roach requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s office regarding certain toll projects that might be impacted by the voter-approved initiative. It took the OFM 90 days to respond that certain agency fees were now under the authority of the Legislature, rather than government agencies.

“While I-1185 limited tax increases to a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, that mandate was overturned as unconstitutional by our Supreme Court,” said Roach. “But, as stated by OFM, all new and increased tolls must be passed by the Legislature.

As a result, Roach pointed out, fees and tolls cannot be raised or imposed on projects such as the Interstate 405 high-occupancy vehicle lanes, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the proposed CRC, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge without legislative approval currently.

“The Legislature would have to again divest itself of the authority to impose and increase tolls to escape this responsibility,” Roach said. “They have done that in the past, but through I-1185, that power was returned to the Legislature.”

Roach pointed out that even if the CRC receives the funding from the Oregon and Washington legislatures, and the matching funds from the federal government, funding the project is still completely dependent on tolling.

“Clark County legislators have been talking for years about how this project ignores the will of the people. The people want legislators making the final decision regarding tolling because they can hold them accountable,” she continued. “They don’t want unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats making these decisions. The decision by OFM means that bills will be introduced, hearings given, and legislators will have their votes recorded.”

Roach will be forwarding the letter from OFM to the Transportation Committee Tuesday. She will also attend the Transportation Committee meeting on March 19.

—30—

For more information contact Sen. Roach’s office at (360) 786-7660 or pam.roach@leg.wa.gov.

Or, Jami Herring at (360) 786-7399 or jami.herring@leg.wa.gov

It would appear to me that CRC’s troubles continue to mount. While many applauded the State Supreme Court invalidating our votes for a 2/3 majority requirement for tax increases, they did not invalidate the rest of the initiative contained in I-1185 that now seems to have poked a wrench into the works tolling to secure bonds to pay for the monstrosity.

The Columbian picked up on it earlier today with the article Finance official: CRC needs to get state permission to impose tolls, again

The Columbian states,

“Although Roach described Murray’s letter as a blow to tolling projects, including the CRC, Transportation Commission Director Reema Griffith seemed unfazed and said the commission will seek legislative approval to toll the CRC during a future legislative session. Griffith said she expects the Legislature to, as it has in the past, return tolling authority back to the Transportation Commission.”

“Nothing has changed really,” Griffith said. The commission will still work with Oregon on rate-setting and go back to Washington state lawmakers later to get the legal authority to establish tolls on the CRC.

Perhaps Reema Griffith, expecting an easy passage once again, forgets there is a new team in town in the Senate where many are not in the tank for CRC and willing to sink Clark County taxpayers into generations of debt to kow tow to Portland and force their financially troubled light rail on us.

There are no guarantees, naturally, but it is very doubtful that such a measure would be fast tracked through the legislature again.

In spit of new ventures that want to present the illusion of massive public support, the projects opposition continues to grow. It has long been a project in dire need of being stopped, fully investigated and if found to be warranted, certain individuals prosecuted for corruption, conflicts of interest, misuse of public funds and whatever else might be discovered.

I welcome this notice and effort by Ms. Roach. It’s high time the people had elected officials on our side and not that of special interests wanting to fatten their bank accounts off the backs of a still struggling middle class.

I can only wonder now whether or not 49th Legislative District misRepresentative Jim Moeller will once again sue constituents to invalidate this vote as well.

UPDATE: Sen. Don Benton, 17th L.D. has released his own statement

“Many of us in the state Senate want major changes to be made in the CRC project before we’ll give a green light to spending the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been requested. Now that we’re back in the driver’s seat on the tolling question our position becomes even stronger.”

“The state Department of Transportation and the state transportation commission know our Majority Coalition Caucus has serious concerns about the CRC. Maybe they’ll be more responsive now that they know that we have a say about tolling as well as about the projects in the next state transportation budget.”

“I understand the state transportation-commission director thinks nothing has really changed as a result of I-1185, and thinks the Legislature will hand toll-setting authority back to the commission. To that I say ‘think again.’ Who would the people rather have setting tolls – their elected representatives or a commission that isn’t directly accountable to them?”

8 Comments to “Toll-dependent Columbia River Crossing halted by Roach inquiry”

  1. Another fringe left whacko living in an alternative universe: there’s a HUGE difference between “seeking” and “getting.”

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  2. I just wrote to my 17th district peeps asking them to deny the Transportation Commission authority to toll.

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  3. If I read the letter correctly doesn’t it mean that each toll and each fee must be voted on by the legislature? I do not read that they can simply once again pass it of to some department head.

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  4. You’re reading it correctly.

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  5. Can we trade Jim for Pam Roach?

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  6. The legislature has two choices, vote on each and every toll and fee for every administrative subdivision, or write more general legislation granting administrative agencies the responsibility to levy fees, etc.

    Hopefully, if legislation granting administrative agencies the legal ability to set their own fees is passed, it will exclude the ability for the transportation agency to set tolls without a vote of the legislature. As Craig suggests, writing your “legislative peeps” on this point would be advisable.

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  7. There is a third legislative option, and that would be to retain the ability to allow or disallow certain agencies to enact tolls and user fees to be used for certain purposes only and selectively allow agencies to set the amounts of those fees according to certain declared standards, with legislative oversight.

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  8. Jacob, while the legislative lineup does not allow us to swap Representatives or Senators with other districts, we can at least dump Jim and elect CAROLYN!!! at the next go round.

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