In his latest ballot measure, initiative promoter Tim Eyman is overreaching again. He conjures a fantasy world in which Washington’s transportation infrastructure is complete, efficient and everlasting.
The real-life Initiative 976 is a direct threat to Washington’s well-being. It would cut repairs to streets and bridges of 62 districts across the state, delay voter-approved mass transit in mid-construction and cost taxpayers more money in the long run. The statewide transportation budget, including highway construction and the State Patrol, would be shorted $4 billion over the next decade.
Little wonder large employers including Amazon, Alaska Airlines and Microsoft, business groups, city and county officials, unions and environmental concerns oppose I-976.
Washington has suffered from some of Eyman’s dubious initiatives that promise taxpayer relief but exact disastrous penalties. He attempts to lure voters into easy-money schemes despite being held in contempt of court for nearly two years. While the legal system may soon finally end Eyman’s ability to run initiative campaigns, he has managed to get one more destructive proposition on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Eyman is running a familiar play: the cheap car registration fees he peddled in 1999 and 2002 without acknowledging the harm they do to communities large and small. He muddles truth, fiction, tax-averse populism and half-baked policy, which burdens the state. The need to be watchful of the public purse should be kept clean of attempts to purge public works. Voters must be skeptical.
In 1999, voters approved reducing car tabs to $30. Infrastructure projects were shelved and the state wasted valuable time and money in court fights that eventually overturned the initiatives. However, the populist resonance of cheap car fees could not be unrung. The Legislature and Gov. Gary Locke approved a $30 registration fee in 2000. It stands today, but lawmakers have attached other fees to cover infrastructure needs.
Eyman returns bearing fictions, beginning with a claim a total $30 car tab is identical to what he presented in 1999.
This ignores the reality of inflation. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that it takes $45 today to buy what $30 would 20 years ago. In the blue smoke and mirrors of Eyman’s rhetoric, he claims this draconian cut to transportation funding would magically, preposterously, have little effect.
I-976 would overrule voters and voter-accountable local governments who approved higher car tab fees for community needs. The 62 cities and areas that made this hard choice dot the state. In Yakima, an additional $20 per car tab funds $25 million in projects for roads and sidewalks. In Vancouver, a $40 fee provides nearly $5 million annually for fixing and upgrading city streets. These and 60 other localities’ plans are derailed if I-976 passes and zeros out fees.
When The Seattle Times Opinion page recently asked readers to send in their questions about I-976 , concerns about the statewide consequences came up repeatedly. Programs that would be stripped of funding can be found in every corner of Washington, including tribal transit, paratransit for people with disabilities and the elderly, and earthquake-proofing of bridges and tunnels.
Eyman seems not to care about collateral damage of his mission to “gut” Sound Transit — as he described it to the Eastside Republican Club — through I-976. If Sound Transit is Eyman’s target, he should have proposed a law without farther-reaching destructive consequences. The valuation used to calculate additional Sound Transit fees in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties should be rewritten to reflect market values, as this board has written. But I-976 goes irresponsibly beyond.
The effects would last decades. Voters in 2016 approved Sound Transit 3 despite the plan’s shortage of accountability framework, setting out a spine of rail projects, now underway, that will take more than 20 years to complete. I-976 would cleave its funding and cost Sound Transit billions of dollars in lost revenue, which would drive up construction and bonding costs. Progress would slow in connecting communities that voted yes for an alternative to regionwide traffic woes.
Nothing about I-976 is a good idea, in terms of responsible governance or prudent money management. Eyman asks voters to buy a falsity that there’s some miraculous way to fund our state’s backlog of bridge, road and transit needs. Because the courts cannot end this toxic nonsense quickly enough, voters must reject I-976 themselves.