Gov. Chris Gregoire is sure to come under fire for proposing a massive spending program while the Legislature struggles with $1 billion deficit.
In her State of the State address last week, the governor called on state lawmakers to pass a 10-year, $3.6 billion transportation package.
The proposal might ultimately prove to be overly ambitious for these tough times. Her plan to add a $1.50 per barrel tax on oil that's processed in the state raises real concerns about potential harm to the state's economic recovery.
But Gregoire is right on a couple of counts: Maintaining the state's transportation infrastructure is crucial to our future economic success, and additional delays in dealing with this critical need will only compound the problem.
Last year, the Washington State Transportation Commission released a comprehensive report assessing statewide transportation needs through 2030.
The total price tag, including local governments and transit agencies, was $175 billion to $200 billion over the next 20 years, according to the commission. Gregoire's plan represents a small fraction of the need, but it would be a start.
Making matters worse, revenue from fuel taxes no longer can fill the need, and the gap is only going to widen as electric cars and hybrids gain in popularity.
Gregoire's proposal attempts to address the issue by recommending a $100 fee be added to electric vehicles. But that's more about fairness than revenue at this stage.
The governor estimates her 10-year plan will create about 5,500 jobs per year. But it's a mistake to focus on the direct construction jobs. A first-rate transportation system is an economic driver for the entire economy.
According to the transportation commission, 64 percent of the jobs in our state are linked to freight mobility. If that seems exaggerated, ask a farmer or any other producer about the necessity of getting goods to market.
We have some concerns about other aspects of Gregoire's State of the State address. We would have liked to hear more about fundamental reforms that would help put state spending on a sustainable track.
It also is the wrong time to ask the Legislature to take up same-sex marriage.
The budget is in crisis, with additional cuts in K-12 school funding and in the state's contribution to higher education all but certain. Social programs that serve our neediest citizens are in jeopardy.
We're whittling away at the very programs needed to restore the state's economy. In the vernacular, that's called eating your seed corn. It's bad policy for obvious reasons.
Under the state's domestic partnership law, same-sex couples have most of the same legal rights as married couples.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it's hard to make the case that gay couples are in crisis given the legal protections the state already has enacted.
Gay marriage is the sort of emotional and polarizing issue that keeps lawmakers up at night. When our legislators can't sleep this session, we want them thinking about restoring lost school days.
But we can't fault the underlying theme of Gregoire's address. Investing in our future is the key to success -- even in a down economy.