Schoesler: Drivers have right to be upset by Inslee’s proposed shift of highway-project funding

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, issued this statement today on Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2021-23 state transportation budget proposal, which calls for a shift of hundreds of millions in transportation funding to pay for court-ordered fish passage projects.

“When I joined about two-thirds of the Legislature in passing the Connecting Washington transportation package in 2015, we did so despite its inclusion of a large gas-tax increase,” said Schoesler. “We voted for that package mainly because it would fund needed highway projects throughout the state, including some in my district. I’m opposed to the governor’s new transportation plan because it might delay several road projects that have either just started or are slated to begin soon. 

“Washington drivers have reason to be upset with this possible funding shift. They are paying a higher gas tax with the idea that the money raised by it will help pay for road projects in their area – not for fish-culvert projects. There’s no way I would have voted for such a large gas-tax hike in 2015 if I knew that any projects funded by this package would be delayed or taken away years later to pay for fish passage.

“The governor hasn’t specified which projects would be delayed or modified. It concerns me that we won’t know until well into our 2021 session which projects might be placed on hold.

“The governor’s budget plan would take reductions from Connecting Washington projects to cover about $1 billion in both preservation and fish culvert projects. The reductions allowing this shift would come from delaying or modifying projects into future years where possible. It appears there is $586 million in spending planned on future Connecting Washington road projects. If the governor’s transportation budget becomes reality and the fish-barrier projects end up taking $724 million of this $1 billion shift, it would leave a very significant and costly funding gap.”

A 2013 U.S. District Court injunction requires the state to significantly increase the effort for removing state-owned culverts that block habitat for salmon and steelhead by 2030.