CRC tolls on the table in Olympia

Pridemore says that, however unpopular, having users help pay for bridge beats the other options

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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The idea of tolling to pay for part of a new bridge over the Columbia River went before the Legislature last week, as Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, and Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, introduced companion bills to allow tolling as an option for funding the Columbia River Crossing project.

Their legislation, House Bill 2676 and Senate Bill 6445, would make the mega-project eligible for tolling, and it would give the state’s department of transportation the authority to enter into agreements about tolling with Oregon’s transportation officials. Oregon, Washington and the federal government also plan to contribute funds to the project.

During a Tuesday hearing on the senate bill, Pridemore acknowledged that tolling is not popular, but he said it would be a better option than raising property, sales or business taxes in the Vancouver community. Tolls will collect money from out-of-towners, including truck drivers, who pass through on the bridge.

Alternatives to tolling would, “frankly, cost our local community more than a tolling mechanism would,” said Pridemore, adding that the project has been 17 years in the making. “Local communities need to step up and cover an appropriate share of the project.”

The house bill is scheduled for a committee hearing on Monday.

During the third week of the 60-day legislative session, some Southwest Washington lawmakers introduced legislation; others saw advancement of their proposals to crack down on robo-calling, improve career training programs, and create stricter penalties for harming a police dog.

• Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, is promoting his three bills to cut state spending. Senate Bill 6378 would exclude future state employees from pension plans that guarantee a certain amount upon retirement. Instead, they would be enrolled in a plan that splits retirement contributions between the state and the employee and yields whatever investing that money produces. The legislation has four additional sponsors, including Democrat Rodney Tom of Bellevue.

Zarelli has another proposal, Senate Bill 6379, that would send unclaimed lottery winnings to the state’s general fund instead of to the lottery commission and a reserve fund controlled by the governor. Zarelli’s Senate Bill 6377 would cut funding to support Initiative 728, which was approved by voters to reduce class sizes, and Initiative 732, which was approved by voters to ensure cost-of-living salary increases for teachers.

Zarelli said the initiatives “are well-meaning, but have been undone by the lack of a dedicated revenue source,” adding that it’s time lawmakers focus on other ways to adequately fund education. “The point of a reform is to move government in a more efficient, cost-effective and sustainable direction.”

The state faces a $1.5 billion shortfall, prompting many legislators to look for creative ways to cut spending and bring in more money.

None of Zarelli’s three bills had been scheduled for a committee hearing as of Friday.

• Zarelli also signed on to Pridemore’s Senate Bill 6088, which would create more accountability for tax breaks. The bill, which received a public hearing on Wednesday, would require that future laws creating tax breaks state the intended purpose for the tax break. After five years, the tax break would automatically expire unless it is renewed based on whether it is serving its purpose.

Lawmakers on one Senate committee will decide Tuesday whether to advance Pridemore’s Senate Bill 6294 to help homeowners’ associations facing meeting attendance problems because of home foreclosures. Pridemore’s bill to improve transparency for automated campaign robo-calls passed out of committee Tuesday.

• Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, received a public hearing for his bill addressing problems at the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. The Senate Committee on Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections is expected to decide Monday whether to advance the bill out of committee.

On Friday, Benton introduced Senate Bill 6527 to limit the number of state employees with state-funded cell phones to just those employees who need cell phones for safety or work purposes. Benton’s Senate Bill 8216 to create a constitutional spending limit hadn’t been scheduled for a hearing as of Friday.

• Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, saw two of his bills advance out of committee on Friday. One, House Bill 2170, would reform workforce training programs and require lawmakers to set a goal to grow the state’s middle class. The other, House Bill 2265, would create a reward system for state educators who increase graduation rates and prepare students for careers in science and technology.

• Moeller’s House Bill 2558 to provide special liquor licenses to single-screen movie houses including Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre has been scheduled for a public hearing on Monday.

Moeller’s legislation to create a sales-tax holiday for back-to-school shopping has yet to receive a public hearing in committee. His proposal to create a “yellow dot” vehicle sticker program to alert emergency respondents if a victim of a car accident may be disabled received a hearing on Jan. 16, but had yet to be voted on by the House Transportation Committee as of Friday.

•Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, saw her proposal to protect police dogs advance unanimously out of committee on Friday. If passed, House Bill 2191 would fine someone $5,000 for wounding a police dog and $10,000 for killing one.

• Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, saw her bill addressing corruption in government contracts advance out of the House Government and Tribal Affairs Committee. House Bill 2452 would set better guidelines that all state agencies must follow when choosing a contract. Her proposal also would create a website to make it easier for small businesses to bid on contracts and submit paperwork to the state.

An amendment was added to the bill that would prevent the state from contracting with companies that use sweatshop labor.

A companion bill sponsored by Pridemore is scheduled for a Senate committee hearing on Monday.

• Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, saw his House Bill 2512 to include pharmacists in the Legend Drug Act advance out of committee on Thursday. The Legend Drug Act makes it illegal to sell or possess prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, but the act doesn’t currently permit medications prescribed by a licensed pharmacist authorized by the state’s Board of Pharmacy.

Harris also issued a statement Friday against the proposed cuts to levy equalization in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget plan. The state provides funds to schools in property-poor districts to level the playing field between them and property-rich and statewide.

• Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, hasn’t seen movement this session on his major pieces of legislation. His bills to prevent the addition of state rule-making jobs and to eliminate duplications of effort in natural resource management had yet to be scheduled for committee hearings as of Friday.

“They seem like very common-sense solutions to me,” Orcutt said.

He also said he wishes there was more advancement of legislation to create jobs and to balance the budget using existing revenue.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523, http://facebook.com/reportermathieu, http:// twitter.com/col_politics, stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.