Transportation is high priority as leaders list state, federal agendas

December 11, 2012

By Staff

NEW — 10 a.m. Dec. 11, 2012

Transportation is a high priority as King County prepares to ask state and federal leaders for assistance to upgrade roads and other infrastructure.

King County Council members adopted legislative agendas for the state and federal governments Monday. The lists focus on transportation improvements and efforts to preserve human services.

“The challenges facing Olympia and Washington, D.C., have a direct impact on how King County can serve its residents,” council Chairman Larry Gossett said in a statement. “The adopted agendas are clear directives from both the council and the executive on what the county’s priorities are and how we plan to work with our delegations to achieve those priorities.”

The county is asking the state to create financing tools to allow local leaders to create revenue for the aging road system in rural and unincorporated areas. Leaders also asked the state for more direct investment in the local transportation system.

“New funding mechanisms for roads and transportation will be a high priority during the 2013 legislative session,” Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Washington State Association of Counties Legislative Steering Committee co-chairwoman and the Issaquah representative, said in a statement. “Our transportation infrastructure and regional mobility are major keys to the economic vitality of the county and the state.”

Local property tax revenue and a separate roads levy support the County Road Fund. The county collects $2.25 per $1,000 in assessed value through the levy. The combined funding, however, is not enough to support maintenance and storm response on 1,500 miles of road in rural and unincorporated areas.

The shortfall stems from annexations of unincorporated areas into nearby cities, lower property valuations and a dip in gas tax revenue caused the fund to drop 25 percent, from $128 million to $96 million. Since 2010, the county Road Services Division has eliminated about 200 positions.

“The funding strategy set up by the state Growth Management Act 20 years ago did not anticipate such a rapidly dwindling number of residents in the unincorporated area who fund the roads,” Lambert said. “Thirteen percent of our population cannot afford to fund more than 1,500 miles of roadway. It is essential that local governments have access to equitable, adequate and sustainable funding tools to maintain our roads and buses.”

The council is also advocating for the state government to preserve the social safety net and create financing tools for the county to pay for human services programs. Cuts at the state level often compound reductions from the federal government, and local governments must pick up the slack.

Officials hope to consolidate the King County Ferry and Flood Control Zone districts’ governance and oversight into the county.

“Meaningful solutions to issues related to human services, flooding and transportation are only identified when King County and Olympia work together,” Councilwoman Julia Patterson said in a statement. “I look forward to collaborating with our legislators in Olympia next year.”

The council and King County Executive Dow Constantine develop state and federal legislative agendas each year.

The county is prepared to ask the state’s congressional delegation for dollars to support and upgrade local transportation infrastructure.

Officials seek federal assistance to preserve existing health programs. The county is also supporting a farm bill with resources to fund federal nutritional programs.

The council also focused on justice and safety issues, including domestic violence and youth programs.

“The state and federal legislative agendas are vitally important to the work we do in King County,” Issaquah-area Councilman Reagan Dunn said in a statement. “It is important that the County Council advocates for the citizens we represent.”

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