Finance Official: CRC Needs to Get State Permission to Impose Tolls, Again

By Stevie Mathieu, March 12, 2013, The Columbian

Voters’ passage of Initiative 1185 this fall means the authority legislators gave the state Transportation Commission to impose tolls on the Columbia River Crossing is no longer valid, Julie Murray, legislative director with the state’s Office of Financial Management, told Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, in a March 8 letter.

The tolling authority given to the CRC project by the 2012 Legislature, along with several other tolling-related bills, “were impacted by I-1185 and would therefore require new legislative approval if the agency were to impose or increase the fee,” Murray wrote in the letter.

The initiative requires that the Legislature must improve all new fees or increases in fees, and that includes tolling. Each new toll or tolling increase would need to receive support from more than 50 percent of the legislators in each chamber.

Last year, the Legislature passed a law that gave the state’s Transportation Commission the authority to set tolls on the CRC, but specific toll rates were never set. Now the Legislature has the responsibility of approving tolls instead of leaving it up to the Transportation Commission, Roach said.

“It’s a resetting of the clock, taking us back to what the framers of the Constitution had in mind, which would be that legislators would be the ones who vote yea or nay to raise tolls,” she said in a press conference today.

Roach had requested an informal opinion on the matter from the state attorney general’s office, prompting the reply from Murray.

I-1185 also required a two-thirds yes vote in both legislative chambers in order for state lawmakers to raise taxes. The state Supreme Court recently struck down the initiative’s two-thirds majority rule, but not other parts of the initiative.

Initiatives cannot be changed without a two-thirds majority vote in both houses during the first two years after their passage, unless they are overturned by the courts.

The $3.4 billion CRC project would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River, update nearby freeway interchanges and extend light rail from Portland to Vancouver.

Roach said she couldn’t specifically answer questions about the CRC losing out on federal funding if the Legislature doesn’t approve tolls for the CRC, but she did say she believed “logically, it might. … It may cause that the project may be honed down, made more appropriate for the area, more acceptable to the people, and I think that would be a good byproduct of 1185.”

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