Ah, the sounds of the initiative season are in the air: "Shame on these people! " "There's never been a Legislature more contemptuous of...

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Ah, the sounds of the initiative season are in the air:

“Shame on these people!”
“There’s never been a Legislature more contemptuous of the public than this one.”

“Let’s take what they did and tell them to shove it!”

So it goes over at talk radio KVI-AM (570), where hosts John Carlson (who said those things) and Kirby Wilbur are cooking up another citizens revolution.

Their target this time: the new gas tax. The two hosts are trying to repeal, via initiative, the 9.5-cent gas tax just approved by state lawmakers.

You can check out their pitch on a new Web site, www.nonewgastax.com.

Their task is near impossible: Collect 250,000 petition signatures in seven weeks. Still, it won’t surprise me if they succeed. This duo were instrumental in derailing the 9-cent gas tax back in 2002.

I was on their side then, though I don’t often share their politics. I’m so skeptical of this Legislature I thought I might be with them again now.

Then I looked into how the state will spend the gas-tax money. It’s far smarter than the plan we axed three years ago.

That old plan, called Referendum 51, was pretty much $8 billion worth of pork and hot asphalt. Much of it was for new highway lanes. It pledged to turn Interstate 405 into a 12-lane, neighborhood-spoiling behemoth.

It did next to nothing to fix the most decrepit highways, such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the Highway 520 floating bridge.

In contrast, three-quarters of the money now goes to fixing the highways we’ve got, not building new ones. Example: The teetering viaduct gets five times more money under this plan than it did in 2002.

It also shifts money away from solo drivers toward mass transit.

Even where it lays new asphalt, it’s smarter. It still widens I-405 (though not by as much). But now the state must manage the lanes to reward car-poolers, probably by charging tolls to those driving alone.

“This time, it’s a case study of the right way to do modern transportation,” says Rob Johnson of the Transportation Choices Coalition, a Seattle group that, like me, opposed the gas tax in 2002.

It does give us the highest gas tax in the nation, a point repeated relentlessly on KVI.

But it’s also true that most drivers pay less in car-related taxes today than they did 10 years ago, even after you add the new gas taxes.

The owner of a $20,000 car paid $440 a year in state fees in the 1990s; a $10,000 car, $220. Today, due to Tim Eyman, both pay about $40. The new taxes add back $75 to $175, based on how much you drive.

Even many Seattle drivers, who also pay the monorail tax, now will pay roughly the same in total as a decade ago.

I’ve blistered lawmakers for the general budget, which somehow managed to raise taxes and be unsustainable. But when they do something reasonable and right, they deserve credit. And support.

I may be but a bug on the windshield of the KVI Hummer. But I’ll say it anyway: This time, the revolution’s off track. Count me out.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.