Paying at the pump

Repealing the gas tax would be detrimental to Southwest Washington infrastructure, business interests

Passage of Initiative 912 that would repeal the gas tax would have an immense negative impact on the long term economy and livability of SW Washington. Those impacts and the need for continued investment in passenger and freight mobility are factually based and readily apparent. The arguments for the initiative are emotional and disingenuous.

The transportation package that was passed with bipartisan legislative support will invest over $240 million in Clark County. These projects address critically needed safety improvements, congestion relief, access to employment lands for job creation and the first installment for replacing the Interstate Bridge.

The need and benefits for the gas tax are tangible. The arguments for the initiative are less clear. The first argument I hear is, “I support the need for a transportation package, just not this package.”

The transportation package was hammered out in a bipartisan fashion by our representatives. Waiting for a perfect package is a way of saying “yes” while not being accountable for the outcome of failing roadways, congestion and economic stagnation. Nothing is perfect.

A favorite argument was in a recent editorial in the Seattle press: “Initiative 912 is not really about the ‘gas tax’ as much as it is about the arrogance of politicians who believe they can tax and tax and tax.” The transportation package is about building livable economically viable communities. It is reprehensible that we should hamstring economic growth and our community to send a message. What ever happened to simply burning an effigy?

Finally, a favorite argument east of the mountains for 912 is that all of the money is being spent west of the mountains, specifically Puget Sound. Yes, over $1 billion will be spent in Puget Sound and these improvements are just as critical to the economy of southwest Washington as our local roads. Companies in Clark County are already having difficulty in scheduling freight through Seattle to markets in Washington and Canada. Puget Sound’s problems are our problems. The problems are big and they require big investments that will generate benefits for eastern Washington and southwest Washington.

So what if the Initiative passes? The impacts will be swift and clear. The moratorium on development in Salmon Creek is instructive. More than 1,000 jobs have been created in this area over the past year and more will be attracted to the area. Future economic development in this corridor will come to a screeching halt in that the $80 million fix to the I-5 interchange is predicated on the transportation package.

The business community needs to stand up and be counted in their opposition to I-912. The CREDC, Identity Clark County and Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce asked the legislature to take a difficult vote to maintain the economic health and quality of life in southwest Washington. They delivered. We should now ensure that we secure the promise of their effort.

Bart Phillips is president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

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