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Transportation topics could get heated

Land purchases, wolves also remain central

— Transportation issues and state land acquisitions are expected to be major topics during the upcoming legislative session.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-7th District, said the governor’s proposed trans-portation tax is “probably front and center.”

It was a subject Gov. Jay Inslee attempt-ed to tackle in 2013, but ran out of time with two special sessions required to approve the budget.

Kretz said the current proposal includes a gas tax increase of about 11 cents, as well as an increase in weight fees on all vehicles.

“The position I’ve taken on that is they need to fix things before they start spending more money,” Kretz said.

After the challenges of passing the budget last year, Rep. Shelly Short, R-7th District, said it’s important for lawmakers to avoid the “potential knee-jerk reaction to get back to spending.”

“Let’s make sure we’re not overspending,” she said. “Let’s do no harm.”

“People understand we need to maintain and preserve our roads, but Eastern Washington people are concerned about a gas tax increase,” Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-12th District, said.

Eastern Washington residents tend to travel farther, and their vehicles need to be more heavy duty and use more gas, so an increase in gas prices would impact them more, he said.

One proposal is to redirect sales tax charged on transportation-related projects so that money would go into the transportation fund instead of the general fund.

“There’s a lot of work we could do before we ask people to pay 10 cents more,” Hawkins said.

Kretz said one reason he opposes the tax hikes is that the state Department of Transportation “has had such a terrible track record of wasting money and spending too much” on projects.

“It costs more to build a mile of road in Washington than it does just about redirect sales tax charged on transportation-related projects so that money would go into the transportation fund instead of the general fund.

“There’s a lot of work we could do before we ask people to pay 10 cents more,” Hawkins said.

Kretz said one reason he opposes the tax hikes is that the state Department of Transportation “has had such a terrible track record of wasting money and spending too much” on projects.

“It costs more to build a mile of road in Washington than it does just about anywhere else in the country,” Kretz said. He said the focus should be on reform, “rather than throwing good money after bad.”

Kretz said the transportation tax is a big issue for the 7th District because much of the gas tax money goes to fund mass transit and pedestrian and bike paths on the west side of the state.

“I don’t see why somebody in Omak should be paying for mass transit in Seattle,” Kretz said. He said another project the gas tax is aimed for is wildlife overpasses on U.S. Highway 97, yet there’s no money to replace Omak’s Central Avenue bridge.

Kretz said he believes the funding for wildlife overpasses should come from conservative groups, rather than the general gas tax fund.

One transportation-related issue Kretz is pushing is getting a heavy haul corridor designated, which could include U.S. Highway 97 from Oroville down to Pateros, as well as part of state Highway 155 out to the Omak Wood Products mill.

“It would be a pretty big benefit,” Kretz said.

Currently, heavier payloads coming into the U.S. from Canada may have to stop and split their payload between two trucks. A heavy haul corridor would increase the carrying capacity to 139,000 pounds, Kretz said.

Other legislative topics that have a direct impact on the 7th District will be land acquisitions and the ongoing wolf saga.

Short said it was important for legislators to get “agencies to quit buying up land in Okanogan County.”

The wolf conversation has slowed down some, largely because there weren’t as many depredations in 2013 as there were in 2012.

“Stevens County was a mess (in 2012),” Kretz said. “It’s going to be an ongoing issue.”

He said the wolf issue is a “powder keg waiting to go off. I think it’ll probably light up again.”

Lawmakers are in somewhat of a holding pattern until the federal government makes a decision about delisting wolves, Kretz said.

“Once the feds do it, I think it’s appropriate” for Washington state to follow suit, he said.

Short also said she’s “always concerned about our electricity prices.”

She said she will continue pushing for a bill that would recognize hydroelectric power as a source of sustainable energy.

This year it “might have the momentum” it needs to pass, she said.

Sen. Brian Dansel, R-7th District, could not be reached for comment. anywhere else in the country,” Kretz said. He said the focus should be on reform, “rather than throwing good money after bad.”

Kretz said the transportation tax is a big issue for the 7th District because much of the gas tax money goes to fund mass transit and pedestrian and bike paths on the west side of the state.

“I don’t see why somebody in Omak should be paying for mass transit in Seattle,” Kretz said.

Kretz said another project the gas tax is aimed for is wildlife overpasses on U.S. Highway 97, yet there’s no money to replace Omak’s Central Avenue bridge.

Kretz said he believes the funding for wildlife overpasses should come from conservative groups, rather than the general gas tax fund.

One transportation-related issue Kretz is pushing is getting a heavy haul corridor designated, which could include U.S. Highway 97 from Oroville down to Pateros, as well as part of state Highway 155 out to the Omak Wood Products mill.

“It would be a pretty big benefit,” Kretz said.

Currently, heavier payloads coming into the U.S. from Canada may have to stop and split their payload between two trucks. A heavy haul corridor would increase the carrying capacity to 139,000 pounds, Kretz said.

Other legislative topics that have a direct impact on the 7th District will be land acquisitions and the ongoing wolf saga.

Short said it was important for legislators to get “agencies to quit buying up land in Okanogan County.”

The wolf conversation has slowed down some, largely because there weren’t as many depredations in 2013 as there were in 2012.

“Stevens County was a mess (in 2012),” Kretz said. “It’s going to be an ongoing issue.”

He said the wolf issue is a “powder keg waiting to go off. I think it’ll probably light up again.”

Lawmakers are in somewhat of a holding pattern until the federal government makes a decision about delisting wolves, Kretz said.

“Once the feds do it, I think it’s appropriate” for Washington state to follow suit, he said.

Short also said she’s “always concerned about our electricity prices.”

She said she will continue pushing for a bill that would recognize hydroelectric power as a source of sustainable energy.

This year it “might have the momentum” it needs to pass, she said.

Sen. Brian Dansel, R-7th District, could not be reached for comment.

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