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Originally published May 31, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 31, 2005 at 12:15 PM

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Guest columnist

Why business leaders support transportation taxes

The Legislature and governor did their jobs well this year when they passed, in bipartisan fashion, a major transportation package. It invests in our...

Special to The Times

The Legislature and governor did their jobs well this year when they passed, in bipartisan fashion, a major transportation package. It invests in our state's future, it creates jobs in a fragile economy, and it deals head-on with the type of problems our elected officials are sent to Olympia to tackle.

There is a price tag for this investment. The gas tax will increase incrementally over the next few years and you're going to pay an annual vehicle-weight fee, which for most people will be $10. People who use the roads are going to pay a little more to make them safe and reduce some of our traffic gridlock. The state constitution mandates that gas-tax revenues be used for road construction and this money will go directly to high-priority projects — facilities that are hazardous, congested and draining the state's economy.

It may seem odd that business leaders so strongly support a tax increase, particularly when we have been staunch advocates of holding the line on business costs to make our state more competitive. However, this transportation investment is critical and here's why.

It's the economy. Poor roads strike a direct hit to the economy every day. Time is money, and employers lose both when employees and freight are stuck in traffic. This isn't just a Central Puget Sound issue either. Deteriorating farm-to-market roads cost Eastern Washington farmers and businesses dearly.

A citizens commission estimated that Washington's deteriorating transportation infrastructure deprives our state's economy of $2 billion each year. Think how much better off our state — and our citizens — would be if those dollars were invested in the economy.

Washington needs jobs. It's no secret that Washington was one of the states hardest hit by the recent recession, rocked by high unemployment, the dot-com implosion and sizable job losses in manufacturing (the historic backbone of our economy).

It is highly unlikely that employment will return to pre-recession levels in manufacturing any time soon. Washington needs family-wage jobs. Because it must be used for road construction, the gas tax is an immediate job creator. The long-term impact on job creation will be exponential as employers are better able to move people and goods and operate more efficiently.

Do it now or do it later. From an economic perspective, it is prudent to act sooner as costs will only escalate the longer we wait to address Washington's transportation problems. Perhaps more motivating than the economics is the realization that this issue is fast becoming a fundamental question of public safety.

We constantly hear stories and reports about hazardous conditions — signs falling on highways, roads flooding, bridges crumbling. The Department of Transportation has been very clear that another major earthquake in the Puget Sound region could take out the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the Highway 520 bridge. Nine hundred bridges in Washington have been deemed "functionally obsolete or structurally deficient" and are in need of repair. No one questions the need. With a backlog of tens of billions of dollars worth of projects, we can't wait any longer.

Some anti-tax advocates say the transportation investment is just another attempt by the state to get deeper into your pocketbook. In reality, this package is a sign that state leaders understand the urgency of one of Washington's most pressing problems and they are willing to do something about it. The new legislation also includes significant funding for performance audits to better ensure the revenues are being spent wisely.

Raising taxes is never easy. But this is an investment that will net a critical and worthwhile return for Washington state. The transportation package will stimulate the economy. It will put people to work. It will tackle a problem that our state has avoided for too long. We applaud lawmakers for getting the job done.

Colin Moseley is the chairman of Green Diamond Resource Company and chairman of the Washington Roundtable, a nonprofit policy organization comprised of chief executives representing major private-sector employers throughout Washington.

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