Here at the Northwest Progressive Institute, we have been working for eighteen consecutive months to sound the alarm about Tim Eyman’s incredibly destructive Initiative 976, a measure that would shred bipartisan, voter-approved transportation investments at the state, regional, and local levels.
As the ballot drop date rapidly approaches, city councils around the state are taking action and responsibly sounding their own alarms.
Under state law (specifically RCW 42.17A.555), cities are legally allowed to take positions on ballot measures. And they’re taking advantage of that authority.
This week, in addition to Seattle, three more cities have declared their opposition to the initiative: Auburn, Tacoma, and Olympia.
Auburn was the first of the three to act, at its meeting Monday night, where councilmembers voted six to one to pass Resolution 5460 rejecting I‑976.
Councilmember Larry Brown, who is also President of the Washington State Labor Council and a member of the NO on I‑976 steering committee along with NPI’s founder, voiced his support for the resolution first, citing the example of the Fife curve along I‑5 during rush hour as proof that our gridlocked highways are at a breaking point. If I‑976 is not defeated, traffic will get much worse and jobs will be lost. “Our economy will screen to a halt as well,” he added.
Auburn Deputy Mayor Bill Peloza had a very philosophical take on the resolution and the need to oppose the initiative. Here are some of his remarks:
You know, I had a hard time with our $20 car tabs in the City of Auburn, but since that time our infrastructure — not only transportation infrastructure, but look at water, look at sewer sewer… look at all the people that are alive in this council chambers!
We’re in here — we’re alive because we’re paying taxes for quality of life! And, nobody likes taxes, but look at the old Roman days, when they used to tax the heck out of those Romans.
And they didn’t like it either!
They protested, and all this other stuff, but hey, look at the infrastructure that they built!
Those underground watersheds that they put in. I mean engineering feats that they did! How did they do it? Taxes! So, I support this because we need the infrastructure for future. I don’t like the taxes any more than anyone else, but it’s a mandatory evil. Thank you.
Good for Peloza.
At NPI, we view taxes as just necessary. There’s nothing evil about them. Taxes are us pooling our resources to get things done for each other. None of us can build a highway or a railway with our own money, but by joining forces, we can do it.
Councilmember Largo Wales was the lone voice of opposition to the resolution.
Wales is retiring from the Auburn City Council at the end of this year; Chris Stearns is running unopposed to replace her this November.
Wales called Eyman’s methods “unethical” in remarks from the dais, but said she could not join her colleagues in taking a position against Initiative 976.
“I just don’t believe this is the way to collect the needed revenue,” Wales said.
Nevertheless, the resolution passed with the support of Auburn’s other six councilmembers, putting the South King County stronghold on record as opposed to I‑976 and the devastation that it would cause.
On Tuesday, the City of Tacoma became the next city to act. Its council adopted Resolution No. 40442 with a unanimous vote of nine to zero. Some of the noteworthy WHEREAS clauses in Tacoma’s resolution are as follows:
WHEREAS the Public Works Department of the City estimates the impact of repealing local authority to impose TBD [Transportation Benefit District] fees would constitute a loss of approximately $2.9 million per year, or $5.8 million per biennium, which would negatively impact the City’s ability to perform necessary work to improve transportation infrastructure
WHEREAS I‑976’s impact to Washington State’s transportation revenues will result in decreased funding to the Transportation Improvement and Multimodal Accounts, for which the City has utilized grant dollars for streetscape improvements, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and Safe Routes to School projects (editor’s note: impacted by reduction to State Multimodal Account)
WHEREAS, if adopted, this Resolution would express the City Council’s opposition to I‑976 for its repeal of the City’s authority to impose TBD fees, and the adverse impact the loss of revenue would have on the City’s ability to complete transportation improvement projects
Anita Gallagher, Assistant to the City Manager, shared some of the preliminary impact analysis for Tacoma. Vehicle fees at the city level would be repealed, causing a loss of $2.9 million in Tacoma — which roughly equates to eighty residential blocks worth of basic street maintenance or one hundred Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant curb ramps.
Loss of revenue to the State’s Transportation Improvement Account would also hurt Tacoma. Improvements to the Lincoln District’s Yakima Avenue Festival Street, the Port of Tacoma Road, and the E 64th St skate project.
Pierce Transit would also lose $60 million for their Bus Rapid Transit line, currently being planned along a 14.4‑mile corridor between Tacoma and Spanaway.
That’s half their funding.
Mayor Victoria Woodards observed that it’s imperative for Tacoma that Sound Transit’s revenue not be impaired. If funding is slashed, there might not be enough money to get Link light rail to Tacoma. The terminus might end up in Federal Way or Fife instead. That would leave Sound Transit’s second largest constituent city bereft of the light rail expansion that it voted for three years ago.
Mayor Woodwards also railed against Washington’s upside down tax code, which requires those with the least to contribute the most.
Councilmember Chris Beale remarked that Eyman’s slogans make for a “nice bumper sticker” but that I‑976 would cause grave harm, including interfering with our regional strategy to stop and reverse climate damage.
Councilmember Anders Ibsen offered the sharpest criticism of all. He assailed Tim Eyman as a “literal convicted thief and embezzler”, which is entirely accurate. Ibsen also correctly stated that Washington voters are adults, and society at-large should understand that it costs money to build things that we need.
Tacoma’s vote was followed by a vote by the Olympia City Council.
Olympia is not inside Sound Transit’s jurisdiction and voters there do not pay the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) that Tim Eyman loves to grouse about.
Olympia voters do, however, support state-level transportation investments and city-level transportation investments through their tax dollars.
On Tuesday, Olympia’s Council discussed I‑976 and declared its opposition with a resolution. Olympia, like Tacoma, has its own Transportation Benefit District, and the city cited the loss of street maintenance funding in its resolution:
WHEREAS, if passed by the voters in the November 2019 General Election, l‑976 would eliminate the Olympia TBD’s authority to impose vehicle license fees and repeal the vehicle license fees already imposed by the Olympia TBD of $40.00 per year, resulting in a funding loss of at least $1.5 million annually.
Olympia is currently working on revamping four downtown streets, with Legion Way to be revamped in 2020 and Franklin Street in 2021. As a part of Olympia’s Downtown Strategy generated in 2016, these improvements to multimodality will make downtown Olympia a much more pleasant urban environment to walk in.
These projects draw funds from the transportation benefit district.
Councilmember Lisa Parshley moved to adopt the resolution. Her motion was seconded and then swiftly approved by the Council, adding Olympia to the list of cities that have taken a stand for Washington’s future by opposing I‑976.
By week’s end, Lake Forest Park is expected to join the parade of cities speaking out against Initiative 976. Its council will consider a resolution similar to those discussed above at a meeting on Thursday evening.
It’s heartening to see so many of our local elected representatives doing their part to ensure voters know what the cost and consequences of this measure are before they vote. Ballots will be mailed next week and must be returned by November 5th. NPI strongly urges a NO vote on Tim Eyman’s I‑976.