Backers of Initiative 912 are attempting to perpetuate a fraud on Washington voters. In urging voters to repeal the state's new, 9.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax, they...
Backers of Initiative 912 are attempting to perpetuate a fraud on Washington voters.
In urging voters to repeal the state’s new, 9.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax, they target Seattle as the big black hole of transportation dollars. I-912ers rail against liberal Seattle lawmakers for pushing the state’s new gas tax through as a big-money grab to replace the earthquake-compromised Alaskan Way Viaduct.
As dispatched from the campaign’s mother ship, KVI-AM conservative talk radio, the story line goes that wild-eyed Seattle liberals will replace the viaduct with the Taj Mahal of tunnels — all on the gas tanks of hard-working reasonable people everywhere else.
Not true. While $2 billion of new gas-tax revenues is earmarked to help replace the viaduct — a major regional thoroughfare that might collapse in the next earthquake — it won’t pay for the tunnel some city officials want. They will have to raise the extra money elsewhere.
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The 912ers don’t care. They fudge the details. They ignore the possibility the viaduct’s catastrophic failure would have major economic repercussions statewide. The resulting congestion would stymie industry and stall goods headed for the Port of Seattle.
Don’t let them fool you as they try to morph the state Department of Transportation, which has been bringing in nickel-tax projects on time and under budget, with everything that is wrong with Sound Transit and the Seattle Monorail Project.
They also never mention the state Legislature appropriated $4 million specifically for higher-scrutiny performance audits for the DOT. How’s that for accountability?
But the most damaging fudging is how 912 supporters obscure the truth of how interconnected the state transportation system is and how much taxpayers in the state’s populous Puget Sound have been subsidizing transportation elsewhere.
I’m going to pick on a rural project to make a point about how the politics of division is counterproductive.
Republican state Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville has been raising an alarm about a dire threat to farming operations mostly in Adams and Grant counties. Irrigation wells are going dry, and industry is urging state and federal officials to help find a solution. That might include developing more of the federal Columbia Basin Project, which draws irrigation water from the Columbia River for about a half million acres.
A 1989 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation environmental impact study suggested expanding Basin irrigation to an additional 87,000 acres at a cost then of $313.5 million. While it’s not clear this would be the best approach, helping threatened farming operations would require heavy investment of tax dollars, federal and state.
I think an economic case might well be made for such an investment, if the environmental questions and perennial water fights can be settled. Apparently, Gov. Christine Gregoire thinks so too, this month directing $600,000 to find out. After all, Washington state pulled out all the stops to win the Boeing 787 assembly line, and agriculture is the state’s No. 1 employer.
After I heard Schoesler’s pitch, I asked how he thought his rural Eastern Washington constituents would vote on I-912. He didn’t hesitate: They will repeal the gas tax because that section of the state won’t get much out of it.
Please. That region, like other rural areas, has gotten more than its share of transportation funding over the years.
Just take the two counties hoping for taxpayer help to save their farming industry. Between 1984 and 2003, Adams County received about $3.32 in transportation funds for every $1 its taxpayers contributed. Grant received about $1.20. And both benefited from a reliable state highway system carrying crops to market.
During that same period, King County received an extra 9 cents for every $1 contributed. That’s reasonable since it is the state’s major economic center, attracting not only outbound goods but commuting workers from neighboring counties.
Now add the new gas tax. If it isn’t repealed, King County’s justifiable take remains unchanged. Adams still will get $2.23 in transportation funds for every dollar it pays through 2015. Grant will break about even — getting 98 cents on every dollar. Still not a bad deal.
Alas, you will never hear that from the divisive I-912 campaign.
Kate Riley’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org