Hot Topics Discussed at Tri-Ports Legislative Lunch

Loretto J. Hulse, December 10, 2013, Tri-City Herald

Transportation issues, finding money for projects to create new jobs and a possible hike in gas taxes were hot topics at the Tri-Ports legislative luncheon held Tuesday.

Port and county commissioners and staff and representatives from the public utility districts, chambers, cities and higher education attended the meeting at the Columbia Center Red Lion Hotel in Kennewick.

State Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, told the group he voted against the state budget in the last session because it took money away from cities and counties.

“That’s not the way to balance the budget. Instead the state needs to become more efficient at using the money it has,” he said.

Jim Toomey, Port of Pasco executive director, said there’s plenty of money if you know what your priorities are. But the delivery of basic services is getting to be more difficult without improvements to the state’s infrastructure and transportation routes.

“We’re all going to have to learn to do more with what will probably be less in the future,” he said.

Klippert said the Legislature was considering an 11.5 cent hike in gas taxes as way to raise revenue and it will likely come up for discussion in the next session.

Klippert has also been approached by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to sponsor a bill to establish DUI check points in Washington. Though the state Supreme Court has ruled the idea unconstitutional, as a law enforcement officer, he’d like to see it happen.

Port of Kennewick Commissioner Skip Novakovich and others are extremely interested in transportation issues, saying roads, bridges and rail lines need to be improved before going on to anything new.

“People do not want new taxes,” Novakovich said.

Eric Johnson, executive director of Washington Public Ports Association, which oversees the 75 port districts in the state, said, “We are all in competition with other regions in the country and the world. We need to invest in our infrastructure to keep our state economically competitive.”

Other topics the association will be working on in the coming legislative session include:

— Ensuring money under the Model Toxics Control Act is available to ports for cleaning up contaminated land, making it available for new or expanded businesses.

— Asking the Legislature to restore Community Economic Revitalization Board, or CERB, funding to its previous level of $20 million.

The present budget allocates $9 million for the coming year, said Ginger Eagle, assistant director for the association.

CERB grants and low interest loans to municipal entities and ports help create jobs, said Toomey. CERB money helped pay for the Pasco Processing Center, which added about $150 million to the tax rolls, Toomey said. Richland also used CERB dollars to help develop Horn Rapids Industrial Park.

CERB money is a good investment for the state, said Eagle. For every dollar invested, $26 comes back in economic development, jobs.

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