Last week, in the after­math of the col­lapse of a key span of the Inter­state 5 bridge over the Skag­it Riv­er, a friend of NPI’s (Wu Ming) sug­gest­ed in a diary on Dai­ly Kos that we begin refer­ring to the out-of-ser­vice cross­ing as the “Tim Eyman Memo­r­i­al Bridge”. We ran with the meme, cre­at­ing a now wide­ly-repro­duced image depict­ing the failed bridge with a mock road­sign over it, which you may have seen on Twit­ter or Face­book. Or maybe even in your inbox.

Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

Tra­di­tion­al media out­lets have tak­en notice of the meme and are doing sto­ries on it. KIRO News­ra­dio’s Lin­da Thomas did a sto­ry this morn­ing and C.R. Dou­glas of Q13 Fox is doing his own report for tonight’s news­cast. (I talked to C.R. for the sto­ry; if you watch Q13 tonight, you’ll prob­a­bly catch a glimpse of me).

Nat­u­ral­ly, both KIRO and KCPQ con­tact­ed Eyman to get his reac­tion to the meme. Q13’s report has­n’t aired yet, so we don’t know what Eyman told them, but we do know what Eyman told Lin­da Thomas. From her report:

Through­out social media, the col­lapsed I‑5 Skag­it Riv­er bridge has a new name — The Tim Eyman Memo­r­i­al bridge.

Polit­i­cal web­sites have been shar­ing var­i­ous images of the col­lapsed bridge span, spawn­ing par­o­dies direct­ed at anti-tax ini­tia­tive guru Tim Eyman.

“Some­one sug­gest­ed we should blame anti-tax ter­ror­ist Tim Eyman, which I was kind of impressed with. I thought the anti-tax ter­ror­ist turn of a phrase was quite fun­ny,” he says.

The “some­one” who has been call­ing Eyman an “anti-tax ter­ror­ist” is Don Smith of Belle­vue, who edits the blog Wash­ing­ton Lib­er­als. We don’t agree that label­ing Eyman a “ter­ror­ist” is appro­pri­ate — or fun­ny. Eyman is a snake oil sales­man, to be sure, and an admit­ted liar. His ini­tia­tives have caused our state plen­ty of harm.

But a ter­ror­ist is a per­son who uses vio­lent and coer­cive means to achieve their ends. And Eyman’s means, while dis­taste­ful and often repug­nant, are not violent.

Eyman brings plen­ty of hyper­bole to our polit­i­cal dis­course as it is. A light-heart­ed meme that makes an impor­tant point is one thing, but we pro­gres­sives ought to refrain from imi­tat­ing Eyman’s dis­taste­ful tac­tics. So, Don, if you’re read­ing this  — please stop call­ing Tim Eyman a ter­ror­ist. It’s unwar­rant­ed and unhelpful.

The next bit in Lin­da’s report con­cerns my post from last week and Eyman’s response to it. I not­ed in my post that there is no one in Wash­ing­ton who has done more to sab­o­tage the cause of good roads in the Ever­green State than Tim Eyman. And that’s true. Eyman’s response:

“The pow­er of one per­son, it is just kind of sil­ly isn’t it,” Eyman responds. “Real­i­ty is the vot­ers have sent a very clear mes­sage that they want tax increas­es to be a last resort. They vot­ed for a lot of our ini­tia­tives, they’ve reject­ed them too, so it’s not like we’re some kind of guru or anything.”

One per­son can wield an awful lot of pow­er, as any stu­dent of his­to­ry knows. One per­son can be the cat­a­lyst for a lot of change… good or bad.

The Unit­ed States is young com­pared to many oth­er coun­tries and soci­eties, but we already have a rich and sto­ried polit­i­cal past. Would our coun­try be what it is today were it not for thinkers and lead­ers like Madi­son and Jef­fer­son? Madi­son was just “one per­son”, but he was influ­en­tial in the debate over whether the Con­sti­tu­tion should be adopt­ed. Jef­fer­son was just “one per­son”, but he made the deci­sion to buy the Louisiana Ter­ri­to­ry from France. That had a huge impact on this country.

As to Eyman’s sec­ond point, the real­i­ty is that the answers you get depend on the ques­tions you ask. (We’re very fond of this phrase at NPI, and we use it a lot, because it’s impor­tant). Eyman’s ini­tia­tives ask one-sided ques­tions, and when there isn’t an effec­tive oppo­si­tion cam­paign, the results are very predictable.

If a poll­ster asks peo­ple if they would like low­er tax­es, most peo­ple will say yes. If that same poll­ster then turns around and ask peo­ple if they would like bet­ter pub­lic ser­vices, most peo­ple will again say yes. But it’s sim­ply not pos­si­ble to have both, because there is no free lunch. We can choose to invest in qual­i­ty pub­lic ser­vices, or not invest. We can’t get some­thing for noth­ing, as Eyman fre­quent­ly implies.

Eyman is cor­rect that many of his ini­tia­tives have been reject­ed. When that’s hap­pened, it’s been because of the efforts of broad coali­tions of con­cerned cit­i­zens and orga­ni­za­tions, who took the trou­ble to edu­cate vot­ers about the cost and con­se­quences of Eyman’s destruc­tive schemes.

I’m glad to hear Eyman freely admit he’s not a guru, because we’ve been try­ing to get reporters like Lin­da Thomas to stop call­ing him that for a long time.

Mov­ing on:

Eyman claims the leg­is­la­ture “jumps at the chance to raise tax­es” and they will try to exploit the Skag­it Val­ley acci­dent because “they are des­per­ate to take more of the vot­ers’ money.”

This is false. The Leg­is­la­ture is actu­al­ly very averse to rais­ing or recov­er­ing rev­enue. We’ve been ask­ing law­mak­ers like Rod­ney Tom to close out­dat­ed and unwar­rant­ed tax loop­holes for a decade, and they have made next to no progress.

One of the rea­sons is because the peo­ple they hear from the most are lob­by­ists who make a liv­ing try­ing to influ­ence pub­lic pol­i­cy on behalf of their employers.

Lob­by­ists are very, very good at jus­ti­fy­ing tax breaks, even tax breaks that have no pub­lic ben­e­fit or a very ques­tion­able pub­lic ben­e­fit. That’s why so few get repealed. And when Tim Eyman’s I‑960/I‑1053/I‑1185 were in effect, it was impos­si­ble for the Leg­is­la­ture to repeal a tax break with­out a two-thirds vote. (It now takes only a major­i­ty vote thanks to the Supreme Court’s LEV decision).

What many peo­ple do not real­ize is that tax breaks are real­ly tax expen­di­tures. They’re a form of spend­ing. When the Leg­is­la­ture grants a tax break, it is giv­ing mon­ey to a cor­po­ra­tion or indus­try that would oth­er­wise go into our pub­lic trea­sury and be avail­able to fund vital pub­lic services.

Law­mak­ers have repeat­ed­ly cho­sen to bal­ance the state’s books by cut­ting ser­vices instead of rais­ing rev­enue. There has­n’t even been an equal split between cuts and rev­enue; it’s been most­ly cuts to ser­vices. Now, if we cut tax expen­di­tures instead of ser­vices, we’d have more dol­lars avail­able for our ser­vices, but the Leg­is­la­ture has most­ly cho­sen tax breaks/tax expen­di­tures over ser­vices. The few times they haven’t, they’ve caught non­stop flak from Eyman and the right wing.

Back to Eyman:

Now Eyman says law­mak­ers are look­ing for ways to pass a trans­porta­tion bud­get that is stalled in Olympia. He calls it “ghoul­ish and crass” to try to blame him in any way for the I‑5 bridge collapse.

“An acci­dent is an acci­dent and it’s kind of hard to peg that on any­body else except the dri­ver of a big truck dri­ving at 15 feet on a 14 foot bridge,” he says. “There’s clear­ly a lot of peo­ple that are try­ing to exploit this bridge acci­dent in order to push tax increases.”

We don’t blame Tim Eyman for the col­lapse of the I‑5 Skag­it Riv­er bridge. We blame Eyman and his destruc­tive ini­tia­tives for pro­mul­gat­ing the infra­struc­ture deficit that has left so many of our roads and bridges vul­ner­a­ble to dis­as­ters like this. It’s the dif­fer­ence between direct and sys­temic causation.

I’ll let George Lakoff explain.

Two kinds of causation

Direct cau­sa­tion is the sim­plest kind: There is a sin­gle agent who pur­pose­ly exerts force on some­thing and as a result that thing moves or changes. You throw a ball and the ball goes through the air. You flip a switch and the light turns on. The prop­er­ties of direct cau­sa­tion are sim­ple: One agent. One enti­ty affect­ed. One action, per­formed freely (using free will). No inter­me­di­ate cause. No mul­ti­ple agents.

What is at issue here is how the event is con­cep­tu­al­ized, not the way it occurs in the world.

Over­throw­ing a dic­ta­tor may take mil­lions of actions by hun­dreds of thou­sands of troops, but it can be con­cep­tu­al­ized as a sin­gle action, car­ried out at the lev­el of the army or the nation. “Bush over­threw Sad­dam Hus­sein” is an exam­ple of a com­plex phe­nom­e­non in the world being con­cep­tu­al­ized as direct causation.

Sys­temic cau­sa­tion is rather dif­fer­ent. Com­plex sys­tems are com­mon­place. Exam­ples are the stock mar­ket, weath­er sys­tems, the pow­er grid, the econ­o­my, a cul­ture, the elec­torate, an ecosys­tem, the health care sys­tem, a social phe­nom­e­non (e.g., crime).

Sys­temic cau­sa­tion is a casu­al rela­tion involv­ing at least one com­plex sys­tem. Exam­ples are very com­mon: Glob­al warm­ing is caus­ing the melt­ing of the polar ice cap. The use of fos­sil fuels is caus­ing glob­al warm­ing. The health care sys­tem is break­ing down. The rise in health care costs is putting stress on the economy.

(from Whose Free­dom? The bat­tle over Amer­i­ca’s most impor­tant idea)

Tim Eyman was not dri­ving the over­height truck that we believe trig­gered the col­lapse of the span that failed. He isn’t direct­ly respon­si­ble for what hap­pened. How­ev­er, as I explained last Fri­day, since 1999, Tim Eyman’s ini­tia­tives – and the Legislature’s rein­state­ment of two of Eyman’s most destruc­tive ini­tia­tives – are a major rea­son why our infra­struc­ture deficit is as bad as it is.

Take I‑695, the first of those two. I‑695 was the first prod­uct of Tim Eyman’s ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry, not count­ing I‑200, which Eyman also had a hand in.

When the Supreme Court threw out I‑695 as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al (it vio­lat­ed the sin­gle sub­ject rule) Gov­er­nor Gary Locke and law­mak­ers fool­ish­ly rushed to rein­state it. Instead of tak­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty to fix what was wrong with the MVET, they sim­ply got rid of it, wrong­ly believ­ing appease­ment to be the best strategy.

The imple­men­ta­tion of I‑695 alone caused tremen­dous dam­age, as we can see by look­ing over the fis­cal impact state­ment pre­pared by OFM:

Under cur­rent law, the state MVET is expect­ed to gen­er­ate approx­i­mate­ly $1.5 bil­lion in rev­enues dur­ing the 1999-01 Bien­ni­um.  Approx­i­mate­ly 47 per­cent of that amount is des­ig­nat­ed for state trans­porta­tion pro­grams, 29 per­cent for local tran­sit dis­tricts, and the remain­ing 24 per­cent to local gov­ern­ments for trans­porta­tion, crim­i­nal jus­tice and oth­er pur­pos­es. Spe­cif­ic des­ig­na­tions are as follows:

  • Local tran­sit districts
  • Coun­ty pub­lic health account
  • Dis­tressed coun­ty assis­tance account
  • Fer­ry cap­i­tal con­struc­tion account
  • Fer­ry oper­a­tions account
  • Motor vehi­cle fund
  • Trans­porta­tion fund
  • City & coun­ty sales tax equalization
  • Munic­i­pal & coun­ty crim­i­nal justice

A fur­ther $1.7 bil­lion that would have been gen­er­at­ed by the MVET in the 2001–2003 bien­ni­um was lost when I‑695 was implemented.

WSDOT has still not recov­ered from the loss of the MVET, despite the Leg­is­la­ture’s back­fill­ing. The loss of that rev­enue source has had seri­ous and neg­a­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions for our roads, bridges, and ferries.

Had rev­enue from the MVET been avail­able to WSDOT dur­ing the past decade, our roads and bridges would be in much bet­ter shape. There would have been much more mon­ey avail­able to replace obso­lete struc­tures like I‑5’s Skag­it Riv­er Bridge.

But the long-term costs and con­se­quences of gut­ting the MVET weren’t some­thing that Eyman and oth­er I‑695 pro­po­nents want­ed to talk about in 1999. In fact, Eyman has nev­er been inter­est­ed in dis­cussing the reper­cus­sions of his ini­tia­tives. When Sen­a­tor Adam Kline has tried to get Eyman to iden­ti­fy what cuts in ser­vices he would make to make the books bal­ance, Eyman has con­sis­tent­ly refused.

Four­teen years lat­er have gone by since the 1999 cam­paign. In that time Tim Eyman has spon­sored over a dozen ini­tia­tives that have wors­ened our infra­struc­ture deficit. Vot­ers have reject­ed some of them, but not all of them.

The ones they haven’t reject­ed have neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed our qual­i­ty of life and wors­ened our infra­struc­ture deficit. That’s the link. Pas­sage of Tim Eyman ini­tia­tives hurts Wash­ing­ton’s com­mon wealth, which in turn results in a bur­geon­ing infra­struc­ture deficit (because there aren’t enough funds to fix or replace aging bridges, water mains, or pow­er lines). The unad­dressed infra­struc­ture deficit results in pre­ventable dis­as­ters and tragedies like we saw last week.

That’s sys­temic causation.

Ulti­mate­ly, in the long run, the tax cuts and tax lim­it­ing schemes that Tim Eyman hawks don’t even save Wash­ing­to­ni­ans mon­ey. We sim­ply end up hav­ing to pay more down the road (pun intend­ed). The costs that stem from a bridge col­lapse (which include eco­nom­ic impacts) are far greater than the costs of proac­tive­ly replac­ing a bridge that has out­lived its use­ful life.

It’s there­fore appro­pri­ate and fit­ting that the failed I‑5 Skag­it Riv­er span is becom­ing known as the “Tim Eyman Memo­r­i­al Bridge”.

Peo­ple are check­ing in to the Tim Eyman Memo­r­i­al Bridge on Foursquare, report­ing how their detour around the Tim Eyman Memo­r­i­al Bridge went on Twit­ter, and shar­ing the mock sig­nage we cre­at­ed on Face­book and Pinterest.

Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

The meme has tak­en off because those who are able to appre­ci­ate the sys­temic link between Eyman’s ini­tia­tives and the bridge col­lapse want Wash­ing­ton to learn a les­son from it. Con­tin­ued pas­sage of destruc­tive Eyman ini­tia­tives will only inflict more harm upon our com­mu­ni­ties. It may not be felt right away, but it will be felt.

Tim Eyman is a full-time law­mak­er and should be held account­able for the ini­tia­tives that he pro­pos­es. He may not be an elect­ed law­mak­er, but he is a law­mak­er nonethe­less, who has kept his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry in busi­ness for quite a long time, with the help of his wealthy benefactors.

Of course, we’ve seen that we can­not count on Eyman to behave eth­i­cal­ly and respon­si­bly. That’s why it is impor­tant that Eyman be held account­able at every turn. And the “Tim Eyman Memo­r­i­al Bridge” meme is help­ing to do that.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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5 replies on “The “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge” meme: Why it got started, why it’s taken off”

  1. Pssst — I‑695 was struck down by the Wash­ing­ton Supreme Court. The only oth­er Eyman spon­sored anti-tax ini­tia­tive that is still in effect is I‑776, which low­ered the state vehi­cle excise tax. Since the state share of fund­ing for I‑5 main­te­nance comes from the state gas tax, it’s a lit­tle dis­hon­est to blame the failed bridge on Tim Eyman.

    Per­haps you could blame it on glob­al warm­ing, or George W. Bush.

    1. Lar­ry, you’re pret­ty much wrong on all counts.

      • While I‑695 was indeed struck down by the state Supreme Court, it was rein­stat­ed by the Leg­is­la­ture at Gary Lock­e’s urg­ing (and we believe that to be his sin­gle biggest mis­take as gov­er­nor). I‑695 has been in effect for over a decade. 
      • It’s not true that the only oth­er Eyman spon­sored anti-tax ini­tia­tive in effect is I‑776. I‑747 remains in effect because it was rein­stat­ed in 2007. Parts of I‑960/I‑1053/I‑1185 are also still in effect. 
      • I‑776 did *not* low­er the state motor vehi­cle excise tax. It repealed local motor vehi­cle excise tax­es in four coun­ties: King, Sno­homish, Dou­glas, and Pierce. It also sought to repeal the vehi­cle fees Sound Tran­sit col­lects with­in its tax­ing dis­trict. How­ev­er, these vehi­cle fees had already been pledged to pay off bonds when the ini­tia­tive was cre­at­ed. Sound Tran­sit argued — and the courts agreed — that the tax could not be repealed because it was pledged to pay off bonds. It thus con­tin­ues to be col­lect­ed, and I‑776 has nev­er been imple­ment­ed in full. 
      • As I not­ed in the post, when the statewide MVET was in effect, forty-sev­en per­cent of the funds raised went to state trans­porta­tion pro­grams. The loss of that mon­ey was huge. It sig­nif­i­cant­ly wors­ened our infra­struc­ture deficit at a very bad time. Before I‑695, mon­ey for high­way main­te­nance did­n’t just come from the gas tax.
      • As I explain in the post, we don’t blame Tim Eyman for the bridge col­lapse. We blame Eyman for the con­di­tions that led to the bridge col­lapse. There is no ques­tion that Eyman’s ini­tia­tives have had a very destruc­tive impact on our com­mon wealth, which has neg­a­tive­ly WSDOT’s abil­i­ty to build and main­tain safe roads and replace old bridges that are func­tion­al­ly obso­lete or struc­tural­ly deficient.
  2. Last I checked, the vot­ers of Wash­ing­ton State vot­ed for those tax breaks. They want­ed them, Eyman’s only role was get­ting it onto the bal­lot for them.

    I high­ly doubt this bridge would have been fixed if the state had more mon­ey any­way. Why is it that oth­er states with con­sid­er­ably small­er bud­gets (per per­son) are able to crawl away unscathed from bridge disasters?

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