Regarding replacing the Interstate 5 bridge between Oregon and Washington, Governor Tina Kotek needs to be on board with legislative proposals to contribute $1 billion in state-issued bonds.
This week, the Joint Transportation Committee previewed legislation that would authorize issuing $1 billion in general obligation bonds to fund the bridge restoration. Bond buyers would front the state up-front cash to repair the bridge, and the government would pay them back with interest throughout the following four biennia.
During a tour of Polk County on Friday, April 14, Kotek told reporters that she supports replacing the aging bridge and agrees that transportation officials are headed in the right direction with their current design, which includes three lanes of traffic in each direction, light rail, and separate lanes for buses, bicycles, and pedestrians.
However, she objected to the planned funding mechanism. Kotek has proposed allocating $770m in bonds for low-income housing and another $130m for supportive housing for the chronically homeless.
“I am uncomfortable with the current conversation of a billion dollars over the next four biennia in obligation bonding,” she said. “I think there needs to be some general obligation bonding this session to move forward on our commitment on the bridge.”
According to a study from Oregon’s state Treasury in January, the state might issue $7.76 billion in bonds over the next four budget years, or an average of $970 million yearly. If the state were to borrow too much money, it would harm its credit rating and have to pay more to issue bonds in the future.
Kotek said she would lobby legislators to use existing bridge funding since the state should spend less of its bonding capacity on the project.
“Right now, I’m asking for a billion dollars in bonding for housing,” she said. “If we tie up a lot of money in the bridge over the next four biennia, that limits our ability to do other things. So we really have to think that through.”
Representative Susan McLain, the primary advocate of bridge legislation, waited to respond to a phone or text message on Friday afternoon. The Joint Ways and Means Committee drafted the state budget and was slated to have a hearing in Newport on Friday at 5 o’clock.
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The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program’s spokesperson, Kelliann Amico, declined to comment on pending legislation.
Current estimates put the bridge’s price between $5 billion and $7.5 billion, with Oregon and Washington contributing $1 billion, highway tolls contributing up to $1.6 billion, and the federal government providing between $1.7 billion and $2.7 billion.
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