Rep. Matt Manweller: Rail infrastructure vital to Washington economy
On March 13, the Legislature concluded the 60-day, 2014 legislative session. As with any budget process, especially the supplemental budget undertaken during the shorter session of each biennium, important projects are left out in the competition for finite resources. As legislators we try to prioritize the most vital statewide needs. However, especially in a short session, it is not uncommon for significant infrastructure to go unfunded – even if it concerns a cornerstone of our economy.
A good example of this is our state’s rail infrastructure. Nearly 40 percent of jobs in Washington are trade-related, and we are the most trade-dependent state in the nation. Yet that information does not translate into hard numbers when drafting a state budget. It should. Trade makes a significant contribution to our tax base and its supporting rail infrastructure is a critical component.
In fact, rail is the backbone of our export industry and one of the main reasons Washington has been a global-export leader for more than a century. There would be no Washington as we know it today if we had not been able to efficiently and affordably get our goods to global markets.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington set a new record for exports in 2013 with $81.9 billion in products and services sold to international customers. We are one of only 16 states setting new records, helping U.S. exports reach a record $2.3 trillion.
Washington’s export growth is led by aerospace, with international sales last year totaling $43.6 billion, an 18 percent increase over 2012. Other top Washington exports include fuel, industrial and electric machinery, wheat, medical instruments and wood.
We must not only maintain our current export levels, we must build upon them. As we face funding challenges in the near future, our state’s budget and incoming revenue will be relying on trade more than ever. Not only does our budget suffer if our trade industry diminishes, but other states and countries will step in where we falter.
It is critical we keep our competitive edge. Our infrastructure must continue to be honed to meet ever-changing global demands. We cannot take the value of our trade industry for granted.
If we allow our trade infrastructure to deteriorate our current economy will suffer the same effects. That’s why I co-founded the state’s Legislative Rail Caucus, a bicameral and bipartisan group dedicated to improving rail transportation in Washington. Without rail there is no trade, and without trade there will never be enough funding to maintain even basic services the state provides.
The ultimate purpose of the caucus is to advance the understanding, communication, partnership and networking opportunities for rail in Washington by working in conjunction with the state Department of Transportation, local governments and ports, passenger railroads, freight railroads, rail suppliers, and shippers. This should ensure we meet the funding needs of all parties involved in the often overlooked rail sector.
Eventually it would be great to see the return of passenger rail service to the Ellensburg area and build our passenger rail network in the Northwest, possibly even alleviating some congestion on our highway system in the process.
When we return to session next year, we again will face a daunting budget process and ever-increasing funding demands. We will again navigate a delicate balance to ensure that vital services and projects are funded, while ensuring our transportation needs are not an afterthought. I will continue urging my colleagues to remember where the bulk of our revenues come from – our trade industry – and the rail infrastructure that allows it to thrive.
Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, is the ranking Republican on the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee.