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When is a public vote not a public vote? When it doesn’t go Tim Eyman’s way, that’s when

Yesterday, KING 5 aired a story on the provision of I-1125 that attempts to sabotage Sound Transit’s East Link project. The provision in question, Section 3, would  forbid WSDOT from transferring part of the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge to the agency for light rail, which obviously would prevent light rail from reaching Bellevue and Redmond (NPI’s hometown) at all.

We first began alerting the traditional press to the existence of this provision back in May, shortly after Tim Eyman announced the I-1125 signature drive.

This week, Danny Westneat wrote a column on the topic (Tim Eyman’s secret war on light rail) and now KING 5 has done a story, which features some amusing lines from Tim Eyman. The story opens with a shot of a Sound Transit Express bus in Bellevue and a short voiceover by reporter Chris Daniels: ”Downtown Bellevue is slated to see the so-called East Link a decade from now…”

… and then immediately cuts to Tim Eyman saying, “I never voted for it.”

Maybe not, but a lot of other people did. The vote on Sound Transit 2 in 2008 wasn’t even close. 57.08% of voters in urban King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties voted in favor of Sound Transit Proposition 1 in 2008, with only 42.92% opposed.

Chris Daniels brought this up with Eyman, but Eyman conveniently found a way to dismiss the vote as irrelevant:

When asked, “Haven’t voters already approved light rail over I-90?” he replied, “A subset of [voters] have had a vote [on an light rail over I-90], not everyone in the state.”

What Eyman really meant to say was that, in his eyes, the vote didn’t count because it didn’t go his way. That would have been the honest answer – but of course, Tim Eyman isn’t known for his honesty.

Eyman will happily cite the outcome of a public vote that he agrees with, regardless of whether it happened at the local level, regional level, or state level. But he doesn’t talk about the public votes that he disagrees with. At least not without being prompted. And then he comes up with an excuse to disqualify the results.

East Link is a regional transportation project. Only people who live within Sound Transit’s taxing district are paying for East Link. No state money is being used to design or construct the project. And actually, because of a Sound Transit policy called subarea equity, only taxpayers who live in neighborhoods that East Link will serve are paying for it. That means Tim Eyman isn’t actually paying for East Link, even though he is a Sound Transit taxpayer.

Given that East Link is a regional transportation project being paid for with regional money, why should people who live in Aberdeen, Colville, Pasco, Yakima, or Walla Walla have a say on it? Why should they get to decide what kind of transportation system Puget Sound has? It’s not their decision. They justifiably wouldn’t be too happy if voters in Puget Sound made decisions for them.

We have a long tradition of home rule in Washington State. It’s why we have so many local governments. Unfortunately, Tim Eyman has a tradition of sponsoring initiatives that totally and carelessly stomp all over home rule.

It’s certainly true that East Link will run over a portion of what is presently Interstate 90, but Sound Transit is compensating the state for its use of the bridge.

Interstate 90, by the way, is a federal highway in addition to being a state highway. The federal government provided the lion’s share of the money to build it, on the condition that the corridor be able to support high-capacity transit in the future. A memorandum signed by the cities of Mercer Island, Seattle, King County, and the State of Washington made an explicit promise that this would happen:

Section 1. (b) The facility shall also contain provision for two lanes designed for and permanently committed to transit use. The eastern and western termini for these lanes shall be designed to facilitate uninterrupted transit and carpool access to downtown Seattle and to downtown Bellevue in accordance with paragraph 3 hereinbelow. The design shall be such as to accommodate the operation of the two transit lanes ill either a reversible or in a two-way directional mode.

The memorandum later goes on to say:

Section 2. The I-90 facility shall be designed and constructed so that conversion of all or part of the transit roadway to fixed guideway is possible.

“Fixed guideway” basically means train tracks. Here’s a more technical definition from the Federal Transit Administration: “A ‘fixed guideway’ refers to any transit service that uses exclusive or controlled rights-of-way or rails, entirely or in part.”

This memorandum I’ve just excerpted from was signed in 1976… when Tim Eyman was only ten years old. It has taken a very long time, but our region is finally ready to move forward and convert the I-90 transit lanes to a fixed guideway… more specifically, train tracks for East Link.

But Tim Eyman and his wealthy benefactor Kemper Freeman Jr. don’t want the terms of this agreement to be enforced. They don’t want the voter-approved East Link project built. Why? Because they are ideologically opposed to light rail. They are diehard road warriors who wrongly believe that traffic congestion would just go away if only we built bigger and wider highways.

To them, the automobile means freedom.

What they don’t get is that designing communities around cars instead of people actually inhibits freedom. True freedom of mobility means the ability to choose a mode of transportation. People who don’t want to drive, for whatever reason, shouldn’t be forced to. They should have options. If our region lacks a good transit system, that makes it hard to get around without a car.

Link light rail is all about providing a reliable commute for people through major transportation corridors that are presently highly congested today.

Voters first approved building a regional light rail system in 1996 with Sound Move. In 2002, Tim Eyman tried to override the will of the voters with Initiative 776, which passed narrowly statewide, but failed in Sound Transit’s taxing district. (I-776 was actually the first Eyman initiative I was involved in fighting; Permanent Defense was created to oppose I-776. PD will celebrate its tenth anniversary this February.)

I-776 tried to kill Central Link, the first Link light rail line, by eliminating one of Sound Transit’s sources of revenue – a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET). However, when Eyman wrote the initiative, he either didn’t understand or didn’t care that the tax he was trying to repeal had already been pledged to pay off bonds. Sound Transit argued that the tax needed to remain in place so it could fulfill its promises to bondholders. The Supreme Court agreed, and the tax continues to be collected.

With I-1125, Eyman is basically trying to do what he did with I-776 nine years ago: Try to kill a Sound Transit light rail line with a statewide vote.

Eyman prides himself on being undeterred when he loses. But he unreasonably demands that his opponents give up and regard an issue as settled when he wins. Pretty good double standard, huh?

To Tim Eyman, who I know eventually will read this post, we say: Sorry, Tim. You may be very determined to continue fighting to paralyze public services and wreck government in this state, but we are even more determined to stop you. Washington cannot afford your destructive, cynical, ill-conceived initiatives.

Readers, please join us in voting NO in I-1125 if you haven’t already. Keep Sound Transit’s East Link on track, and keep our roads safe.

Let’s defeat Tim Eyman… again!

9 Comments

  1. Lamprey
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 12:30 PM | Permalink

    The people that want to misuse our tax dollars always cry foul, when Tim Eyman exposes them to the tax payers. When the working folks cross the 520 bridge early in the morning to go to work, they will discover how disproportionate the tolls will be. They will be charged approximately 57% more than the business person that goes across the bridge at a later time. Not to mention that the government will use all of this new money as a ‘cash cow’ to do anything they want, including funding light rail.

    Note: This commenter’s screen name was chosen by NPI.

  2. Andrew
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 12:43 PM | Permalink

    So, Lamprey, you think it’s fair to force everyone to pay the same toll regardless of how bad traffic is? Why should someone crossing in the dead of night have to pay the same as someone crossing at rush hour?

    Variable tolling doesn’t mean charging different people different rates. It means charging everyone the same rate, but varying it depending on how strong the demand is at the time. Variable tolling is fair.

    Your claim that “the government will use all of this new money as a ‘cash cow’ to do anything they want, including funding light rail” is false. State law spells out plainly how toll revenue may be used. The Legislature might change the law in the future, but the public would have an opportunity to weigh in on any proposed changes. WSDOT cannot simply decide to do whatever it wants with the toll revenue it collects, as you imply.

    Sound Transit’s Link light rail system is a regional project, funded by voter-approved regional taxes and federal grants. No state money is being used to construct ST’s light rail lines.

    Toll revenue collected from SR 520 will be used to pay for the new Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (which is a highway), just as Narrows tolls are being used to pay off debt incurred while building the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

  3. Lamprey
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 1:21 PM | Permalink

    Andrew…….You should read the 18th amendment to the Washington State constitution, it may help you understand why fees/tolls/taxes paid by motorists shall only be used for highway purposes. I-1125 is just a reminder of what our state constitution is already says.

  4. Andrew
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 1:54 PM | Permalink

    I’m familiar with the 18th Amendment. But you don’t seem to be.

    The 18th Amendment is concerned with requiring fuel taxes to be spent on highway purposes, which are then spelled out. The amendment does not say anything about tolls. And I-1125 is about tolls – not fuel taxes.

    Read the text of the amendment for yourself (it’s Article II, Section 40). Search for the word “toll”. You won’t find it.

    Tim Eyman has been claiming that I-1125 restates the 18th Amendment. In reality, I-1125 doesn’t have anything to do with the 18th Amendment. Tim Eyman just says that to make his initiative sound more appealing.

  5. Lamprey
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 4:12 PM | Permalink

    Andrew,

    Like gas taxes, tolls are paid by drivers, so in fairness should be limited to highway purposes.

    Are you saying that if I-1125 fails, ALL of the monies received from tolls will be spent on highways? That I am mistaken?

  6. Andrew
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 5:31 PM | Permalink

    All of the tolls the state currently collects are already being used for highway improvements. To date, the Legislature has authorized the collection of tolls on three highways in Washington State:

    • State Route 167 (for usage of the HOV lanes by drivers who do not have any passengers)
    • State Route 520 (for usage of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, beginning next month)
    • State Route 16 (for usage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge)

    Each toll benefits the facility where it was collected.

    In the future, as gas tax revenues decline, the state may find it necessary to impose additional tolls and use toll money to improve the highway system in general, rather than simply the specific facility where it was raised.

    In each case, the Legislature must give its approval. RCW 47.56.031 states:

    No tolls may be imposed on new or existing highways or bridges without specific legislative authorization, or upon a majority vote of the people within the boundaries of the unit of government empowered to impose tolls.

    I-1125 interferes with our ability to eventually replace the gas tax with tolls. It says toll money can only be spent where it’s raised, in addition to saying tolls should be treated like fuel taxes.

    I-1125 does not guarantee that toll money will always be spent on highways. It can’t. I-1125 is simply a proposed state law. And state law is not ironclad. Even if it passed, survived a court challenge, and went into effect, it could be modified or repealed at some point in the future, just like any other state law.

    However, as it currently stands, the state has no plans to spend the tolls it is collecting on anything but highways. 1125′s failure won’t change this.

  7. Lamprey
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 7:07 PM | Permalink

    If you truly want light rail, add rails back to the Burke Gilman trail system – the bicycles do not add one penny to our infrastructure.

  8. Andrew
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 8:10 PM | Permalink

    By “the bicycles”, do you mean bicyclists?

    The Burke-Gilman Trail – and other trails like it – are not just for bicyclists. They’re also for pedestrians, rollerbladers, and skateboarders. Compared to roads, trails are very inexpensive to build and maintain, and they help provide people with transportation choices.

    Sound Transit does run passenger trains on some of our existing railroads – this service is called Sounder commuter rail. North Sounder serves Seattle, Edmonds, Mukilteo, and Everett. South Sounder serves Seattle, Tukwila, Kent, Auburn, and Tacoma. Next year, South Sounder will begin serving Lakewood as well.

    Light rail is not the same thing as heavy rail. Light rail trains are usually electrified (rather than pulled by diesel locomotives) and the rolling stock has a smaller footprint. Light rail lines also have more stations, and they stop closer to where people live and work. Sound Transit has generally been building light rail in corridors where there aren’t any tracks. For instance, University Link is presently under construction. There is no existing rail bed that goes from downtown to the UW. Sound Transit is tunneling under Capitol Hill to the UW to create right-of-way for the train. It’s an expensive undertaking, but when it is complete in 2016, it will help people get from downtown to the UW in just a few minutes no matter how bad the weather or the traffic is. It’s a worthy investment.

  9. Lamprey
    Posted November 6th, 2011 at 11:30 PM | Permalink

    Thank You Andrew……I appreciate your comments