Opinion

Legislators, let's protect our ports, jobs | Lewis

The looming transportation crisis, made even more evident by Boeing's needs recently stated to the governor, is much more complicated than you might think.

Keep in mind that 40 percent of the population of the state lives in a narrow corridor from Everett to Tacoma. Add to that more than 80 percent of the state's gross domestic product is generated in that area.

On top of that, the opening of the widened Panama Canal in 2015 will allow huge ships called Pana-Max to access the gulf ports and the Heartland of America, where the bulk of the population lives and bypass our area altogether.

To make things more difficult, Canada, Los Angeles and Mexico have invested billions of dollars in infrastructure for their ports and railroads. They mean to take the Puget Sound port's business as well and the more than 170,000 jobs attached to it. Then there's the real problem of what will happen to the huge number of manufacturers that are located in Puget Sound.

If we lose the shipping contracts with the Pacific Rim countries, then all of the manufacturers located here doing business overseas will begin to relocate to keep their costs down. The reality is ships do not come across the Pacific empty to fill up on a product just for us. They will bring cargoes to new ports and suppliers will move closer to where their exports can go out. Given all of that information, you would think a transportation plan for the Puget Sound would be easy.

Not so fast.

The legislators on the east side of the state act in a decisive and cohesive manner. Unless their projects are funded, no transportation bill will pass. Each eastside project chips away at the pot of money absolutely necessary to keep and possibly expand our trade connections. But no package will pass without the votes from the east.

Then there's the problem of the legislators. A big election year looms in 2014 and there's a real concern in the minds of some of the legislators that if they vote for any kind of a tax, they might not get reelected. Given the fact they know the reality of the problem with the ports – and those who are voting against them from this side of the state – they are more worried about keeping a job.

Then again there's Seattle. The city and its immediate satellites want transit, and lots of it. They may not have a united delegation on a host of issues, but on transit they are lockstep, and no package will pass without Seattle.

But King County also has a need for transit and money to preserve its roads. The county lost so much land in the annexations to cities that it first promoted and then realized it lost tax money. They will fight for transit and preservation money to counties in the transportation package.

Remember the real reason? A drastic loss of income and jobs is facing us right now. Will our legislators do the right thing, or will they work for their own interests? The big clock is ticking down.

Reach Mayor Pete Lewis at www.facebook.com/auburnmayor or plewis@auburn.wa.gov

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