While it’s tempting to look at support for Initiative 976 in areas outside of King County as reason to pull up the drawbridge, fortify our own transit system and abandon the rest of the state, we can’t forget the 13 percent of people in Washington state that have mobility-limiting disabilities. Many of us don’t have a driver’s license, or access to a car. We don’t just live in Seattle and King County; we live in communities throughout our state.
People like Amandeep Kaur, a blind immigrant who lives in Snohomish County and relies on transit to get to Seattle for her studies, or Kyrstal Monteros, a transit-reliant wheelchair-user in Lakewood. Let’s not forget Jonah Holloway, an autistic youth in Spokane who takes the bus so his single mom doesn’t have to drive him everywhere. Or Corey Grandstaff and Matthew Hines, who both live in Vancouver and work at the Washington School for the Blind.
Arguments that call for Seattle or King County to go it alone are profoundly inequitable. As King County has become more expensive, many transit-dependent poor people, people of color, immigrants, elders and people with disabilities are priced out.
It’s not just disabled folks who are transit dependent — it’s also our youth, our elders, immigrants and people who can’t afford cars. Transit for us isn’t a choice, it’s an absolutely critical part of our ability to participate in our communities. King County’s Metro Equity Cabinet (of which I was part of), just released a report that documents the displacement of many transit-dependent people in our region from transit-rich areas.
When we decide that our wealthy “progressive” cities are better off without the rest of the state, we are supporting the narratives that have allowed racist and xenophobic demagogues to pit rural “flyover” communities against wealthy cities. In reality, working people can’t afford the current tax system in our state, yet it has been designed so that we aren’t able to understand its true cost. According to “Tax Alternatives for Washington State” prepared for the Legislature by the Department of Revenue, “many households are unaware of their sales tax burden.”
Who knows how much they paid in sales taxes last year? And without that knowledge, we are unable to comprehend how profoundly regressive a sales tax is. Compared to what each of us pays in sales taxes, car tabs are a small cost. But they’re much more visible. Initiative promoter Tim Eyman understands this and has been pursuing this strategy for 20 years.
I had the opportunity to confront Eyman outside Mayor Jenny Durkan’s recent news conference. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do ever since, as a low-vision high school student, I worked against his first $30 car tab initiative. I didn’t want to cry, but in that moment I felt all the alienation and lack of hope I had growing up here in a community where driving was seen as the only ticket to adulthood. And I wanted him to answer for how he has harmed those of us who depend on transit.
Eyman’s response was simple: $30 car tabs are the will of the people. He has no answer for how his work impacts people with disabilities — or anyone else who will suffer from lack of basic services as our state and local governments scramble to patch the budget holes caused by the initiative.
It’s time we understand that, and until we figure out how to harness our state’s unprecedented wealth to pay for the essential services we need, we will continue to have to fight Eyman in every election. It’s time we listen to the will of the people and reform our regressive tax system.