NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

King County residents want more transit, but there would be less under Tim Eyman’s I-976

On the front page of this morning’s Sunday edition of The Seattle Times, there’s a superb, must-read article by reporter David Gutman detailing the results of a recent public opinion survey the newspaper commissioned to ascertain voter attitudes towards expanding transit service in our region. The survey, conducted by longtime pollster Stuart Elway, found strong majorities in support of more transit.

Most respondents said that they were affected by traffic on a daily basis and drive alone to work, but aren’t interested in making it easier to get around by car.

“[I]f it’s getting tougher out there for drivers, well, drivers can live with that — provided there are more options to get around without a car,” Gutman wrote.

In a later passage, he unveils the numbers from that particular poll finding:

“A full two-thirds of Seattle residents said they would prefer to make it easier to travel without using a car, rather than make it easier to drive. Even among all King County residents, 73 percent of whom said they drive alone to work, 57 percent would rather make it easier for non-drivers than for drivers.”

“The results hold true for both men and women, for all age groups and for all income levels,” Gutman explains. “In both King County and Seattle, no matter the gender, age or income of respondents, a majority in all subgroups would rather we work on making it easier to travel without a car than with a car.”

Our elected representatives have been hearing this same sentiment for years, and have responded by investing in expanded transit service at the state, regional, and local levels — or providing voters with opportunities to do so, like in 2016, when the Sound Transit 3 system expansion plan was on the ballot.

But now these existing investments are under attack. Disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman is back (despite his legal troubles) with an initiative that seeks to erase funding for Amtrak Cascades and freight mobility at the state level, repeal one of the three revenue sources supporting Sound Transit 3 at the regional level, and take away money for expanded King County Metro service hours at the city level.

Eyman’s I-976 is the gravest threat transit in Washington has faced in years. It’s  a shortsighted attempt to roll back more than a decade of bipartisan progress in precisely the investments that voters are demanding in one fell swoop.

Gutman doesn’t mention I-976 in his article, but last week, it officially qualified as an initiative to the Legislature, having passed a random sample check of its signatures. Although it goes before lawmakers first as an initiative to the Legislature, it is destined to appear on the November statewide ballot since there’s no chance that the Democratically-controlled Legislature will approve it.

NPI is working hard to organize opposition to Eyman’s I-976 to ensure that our vital voter-approved transit investments are protected.

It is essential that every voter understands what will happen if I-976 is implemented. Funding for transit at every level would be repealed. Bus service hours in Seattle would be cut back. Neighborhoods in and out of the city would lose planned light rail stations. Water taxi runs could be curtailed. Intercity rail service to Portland/Eugene and Vancouver, British Columbia would be gutted.

The list of impacts goes on… and on… and on.

Rural voters should be aware that the impacts of I-976 would not be confined to urban areas. Eyman wants to eliminate vehicle fees in sixty cities, and most of those cities are small towns that are using the money to pay for street repairs and long deferred road maintenance. You can see a list of affected cities here.

I-976 is a recipe for horrific highway gridlock, derelict roads, and stranded travelers. Think traffic is bad now? If Eyman’s I-976 goes into effect, it would get even worse. There would be fewer options for getting around without a car, not more.

Worsening traffic would make rush hour more of a daylong phenomenon, with no respite even for people who have flexibility in their work schedules.

Eyman has tried to brush off concerns about the impacts by suggesting the billions of dollars in funding his initiative would wipe out over the next ten years could simply be found elsewhere. As usual, Eyman is being dishonest.

Where is replacement funding supposed to come from?

Fuel taxes? No. The state cannot use fuel taxes to fund services like Amtrak Cascades because such funds are constitutionally restricted to being spent on highways — as Tim Eyman is well aware.

Tolls? Eyman would be opposed to that. So would his pals on right wing talk radio. We’ve historically used toll revenues to finance new bridges. More recently, express toll lanes were introduced on I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood. It isn’t necessary to pay a toll to use I-405, only to drive in the far left lane or lanes, but the right wing hates the express toll lanes nonetheless, and wants them gone.

Sales taxes? No. The over-relied upon sales tax is the single largest revenue source for the state’s general fund. A majority of the general fund supports K-12 schools or higher education. The sales tax rate is already at ten percent. Right wing talk show host John Carlson, who frequently brings Eyman in-studio, recently proposed cutting the state sales tax without replacing the lost revenue.

Property taxes? No. Property taxes have already been increased significantly in urban areas to fund voter-approved levies and the McCleary levy swipe scheme that the Senate Republicans insisted on back in 2017 to adjust how schools are funded.

B&O taxes? No. There would be strong opposition to that. The business community is actually lobbying the Legislature right now to cut the state business and occupation tax (a widely disliked tax on gross receipts) to help manufacturers.

You’ll never hear Tim Eyman identify a replacement funding source because he doesn’t actually support replacing the funding. Eyman hates, absolutely hates, the idea of spending money to build new light rail stations like this one in Roosevelt:

Most people would likely agree that emptying their retirement account to finance a political crusade against Sound Transit (which Eyman claims to have done) would be an absolutely absurd, utterly foolish thing to do.

But not Eyman. Trains of any sort seem to offend him.

Last year, when he held a press conference at Seattle’s King Street Station, the largest passenger rail hub in the entire Pacific Northwest, I offered to buy him a ticket so he could experience Link light rail without having to pay a cent.

He refused.

Unlike the majority of the respondents in the Elway Poll that the Seattle Times commissioned, Eyman wants any taxes collected for transportation purposes to go exclusively to highways and roads that he, Tim Eyman, can drive his car on.

Repealing vehicle fees to stick it to transit isn’t the only bad idea Eyman has come up with over the years that would result in worse traffic.

In 2000, he proposed an initiative that attempted to forcibly redirect transit funding to roads (I-745). Voters rejected it. Eight years later, Eyman tried to open high occupancy vehicle lanes to solo drivers with I-985 (which we dubbed the More Traffic Measure). Voters said no. Three years after that, Eyman tried to ban variable tolling and block Link light rail from coming across I-90 with I-1125. He failed.

Now, an increasingly desperate and nostalgic Eyman is trying to recreate his breakout campaign from twenty years ago… Initiative 695.

Washington still hasn’t recovered from the incredible damage inflicted by implementation of I-695. No matter; Eyman doesn’t care and has repeatedly sneered that “the sky didn’t fall” when I-695 was implemented. He may love make-believe, but our communities can’t afford any more of his destructive initiatives.

It is reassuring to hear that the Seattle Times and Elway Research found that voters in King County are so supportive of investing in freedom of mobility and want to make it even easier to get around without a car. I-976, however, would do just the opposite. It’s imperative that this initiative be defeated. We urge you to learn more about the impacts of I-976 and join our opposition coalition at no976.org.

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