Eyman's I-976 eliminates transit
Eyman's I-976 eliminates transit

Edi­tor’s Note: The fol­low­ing is the text of NPI founder Andrew Vil­leneu­ve’s remarks to the Kirk­land City Coun­cil oppos­ing I‑976, as pre­pared for deliv­ery. The Coun­cil con­sid­ered, and adopt­ed, a res­o­lu­tion oppos­ing I‑976, spon­sored by Tim Eyman, at its Octo­ber 1st, 2019 meet­ing. Pri­or to that vote, the Coun­cil heard pre­sen­ta­tions from speak­ers rep­re­sent­ing both sides, pro and con. 

Good evening, Councilmembers.

For the record, my name is Andrew Villeneuve.

I’m a cyber­se­cu­ri­ty strate­gist, facil­i­ta­tor, and non­prof­it leader, and I’m here tonight on behalf of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute and Keep Wash­ing­ton Rolling to make the case against Tim Eyman’s I‑976.

In my near­ly eigh­teen years in pol­i­tics, I’ve orga­nized oppo­si­tion to some pret­ty destruc­tive ini­tia­tives. This is eas­i­ly one of the worst. Accord­ing to the state Office of Finan­cial Man­age­ment, I‑976 would wipe out $4.2 bil­lion – that’s bil­lion, with a b – in bipar­ti­san, vot­er-approved trans­porta­tion invest­ments over the next six years. The num­bers are even worse when you con­sid­er the impacts over ten years.

Sound Tran­sit has esti­mat­ed that I‑976 could jeop­ar­dize as much as $20 bil­lion in essen­tial tran­sit expan­sion fund­ing that the vot­ers approved – which includes not only motor vehi­cle excise tax (MVET) rev­enue, but financ­ing for Sound Tran­sit 3 projects t sup­port­ed by that revenue.

The list of affect­ed ser­vices is long. Because I‑976 would end vehi­cle fees at the state lev­el, Amtrak Cas­cades would be gut­ted. Freight mobil­i­ty projects would be imper­iled. Over­pass­es and bridges in “poor” con­di­tion would­n’t be retro­fit­ted or replaced. The Wash­ing­ton State Patrol would lose mon­ey. New fer­ry­boats would be delayed or not built. Tran­sit grants to rur­al com­mu­ni­ties would end.

Because I‑976 seeks to take away a major rev­enue source from Sound Tran­sit, the light rail line planned to con­nect South Kirk­land to Issaquah could be delayed, short­ened, or pos­si­bly not even built at all.

The new Stride bus rapid tran­sit ser­vice planned for the I‑405 cor­ri­dor would sim­i­lar­ly be threat­ened. At the local lev­el, here in King Coun­ty, Seat­tle would lose vot­er-approved fund­ing for hun­dreds of thou­sands of Metro bus hours, which would neg­a­tive­ly impact the entire Metro sys­tem, hurt­ing Kirk­land, Belle­vue, Red­mond, and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Oth­er neigh­bor­ing cities like Mer­cer Island would lose fund­ing for road main­te­nance, street repairs, and traf­fic calming.

These trans­porta­tion projects sup­port a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of good pay­ing, fam­i­ly-wage jobs, which is why the Wash­ing­ton State Labor Coun­cil, the Labor­ers, the Build­ing & Con­struc­tion Trades, and oth­er unions fierce­ly oppose this measure.

Tim Eyman says that I‑976 is about fair tax­a­tion. That’s a fiction.

There is noth­ing fair about let­ting some­body who owns a Fer­rari or a Lam­borgh­i­ni pay the same amount as some­one who owns a Corol­la or a Civic to renew their vehi­cle reg­is­tra­tion every year.

The sim­ple truth is that this mea­sure exists because Tim Eyman found mon­ey to make his vendet­ta against Sound Tran­sit an issue on the Novem­ber 2019 ballot.

For three years, he tried to get this same scheme onto the bal­lot and failed three times. His first attempt was in 2016 with I‑1421. It nev­er got off the ground.

He tried again with I‑869. Same result.

Unde­terred, he start­ed over a third time with I‑947 in 2017.

That implod­ed too.

Final­ly, he decid­ed to raid his retire­ment fund – or at least that is where he claims the mon­ey came from – to finance a sig­na­ture dri­ve for his fourth attempt, I‑976.

While Tim was work­ing on Attempt Num­ber One back in 2016, he went to a meet­ing of the East­side Repub­li­can Club to make a pitch for peo­ple to give him mon­ey. On March 1st, he stood before the club and made it abun­dant­ly clear that his over­rid­ing objec­tive with this ini­tia­tive was to wound Sound Tran­sit as deeply as pos­si­ble. Cheap vehi­cle fees are just a wel­come side effect.

Here is what he said – these are his own words, which we have on tape:

“I love the idea of every vot­er in the state being able to reg­is­ter their vehi­cle for a flat-rate, easy to under­stand $30, but what gets me gid­dy is the idea of rip­ping the heart out of Sound Transit.”

He added:

“This is our one chance to be able to gut them like a pig, and that’s what I real­ly love about this initiative.”

Gut ’em like a pig. This is what Tim Eyman is real­ly after. Destroy Sound Tran­sit; sab­o­tage the mul­ti­modal trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture that we have repeat­ed­ly vot­ed for because he inex­plic­a­bly believes that every­one should get around by auto­mo­bile only.

Coun­cilmem­bers, I believe you’re all famil­iar with the con­cept of mul­ti­modal infra­struc­ture, but for those in the audi­ence or watch­ing the livestream, allow me to offer a def­i­n­i­tion. Mul­ti­modal infra­struc­ture allows peo­ple to get where they want to go using the mode of their choice. That could mean walk­ing, bicy­cling, or tak­ing tran­sit (bus, van­pool, or rail) as opposed to only driving.

Sound Tran­sit’s mis­sion is to make our heav­i­ly used cor­ri­dors tru­ly multimodal.

Just a few weeks ago, the agency offi­cial­ly broke ground on Lyn­nwood Link.

When that project is done, it will be pos­si­ble to hop on a train in Sno­homish Coun­ty and enjoy a one seat ride into down­town Seat­tle. There will final­ly be a reli­able way to bypass the ter­ri­ble traf­fic in that area on Inter­state 5. The high­way will no longer be the only key facil­i­ty sup­port­ing move­ment through that corridor.

Our State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has also embraced the idea that our future is mul­ti­modal. When we rebuilt State Route 520, we added modes to it.

We con­struct­ed HOV lanes that bus­es and van­pools can use to bypass crum­my traf­fic and we cre­at­ed a pedes­tri­an and bike path next to the auto­mo­bile lanes, link­ing Seat­tle and Med­i­na by trail. This cre­at­ed more choic­es for everybody.

I have crossed the lake on the new bridge using each mode.

It’s won­der­ful to have the free­dom to choose.

Sad­ly and strange­ly, Tim Eyman does­n’t want peo­ple to have that freedom.

How do we know? Because Eyman has a twen­ty year track record in pol­i­tics as a “road war­rior” – some­body who holds the posi­tion that only high­ways, and a much less­er extent local roads, deserve to be funded.

Eyman’s con­tempt for rail tran­sit is well established.

He’s repeat­ed­ly char­ac­ter­ized light rail as a “choo choo train”, for example.

Nev­er mind the fact that Sound Tran­sit’s pop­u­lar trains are ultra­mod­ern vehi­cles run­ning on elec­tric­i­ty, not steam cre­at­ed from the burn­ing of cli­mate-destroy­ing fos­sil fuels. Trains, like auto­mo­biles, have evolved sig­nif­i­cant­ly since they were each invent­ed in the 1700s and 1800s.

Nonethe­less, Eyman sees rail tran­sit as anti­quat­ed and obsolete.

The peo­ple of our region disagree.

As Dow Con­stan­tine has observed, they vote with their feet and their ORCA cards, and they are choos­ing Link light rail. Rid­er­ship is booming.

Then there are Eyman’s many unsuc­cess­ful attempts to change state trans­porta­tion pol­i­cy, which you did­n’t hear him talk about in his pre­sen­ta­tion because the vot­ers defeat­ed them.

  • There was I‑745, in 2000, which sought to require almost all trans­porta­tion fund­ing be spent on roads and highways.
  • There was I‑985 in 2008, which would have opened our HOV lanes to solo dri­vers at almost all hours of the day.
  • There was I‑1125 in 2011, which sought to ban vari­able tolling on cor­ri­dors like State Route 520 and pro­hib­it Sound Tran­sit from using the I‑90 Homer M. Hadley Memo­r­i­al Bridge for East Link light rail.

All of those mea­sures were defeat­ed by statewide voters.

Dur­ing the same twen­ty-five year times­pan, vot­ers in Puget Sound vot­ed for Sound Move in 1996, Sound Tran­sit 2 in 2008, and Sound Tran­sit 3 in 2016. Three major, high pro­file plans to sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand tran­sit in our state’s urban core. All approved by voters.

Wash­ing­to­ni­ans have been clear: we want mul­ti­modal trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture. That is our will.

Tim Eyman has been equal­ly clear: he does­n’t care.

He keeps com­ing back with new schemes to sab­o­tage our work to build a bet­ter trans­porta­tion sys­tem that pro­vides peo­ple with free­dom of mobil­i­ty as often as he pos­si­bly can. He wants Sound Tran­sit abol­ished and he wants the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion to go back to essen­tial­ly being the Depart­ment of Highways.

I find this stance tru­ly puz­zling. I’ve trav­eled wide­ly through­out our coun­try and I’ve also been over­seas. In every major urban area I have trav­eled to, I have rev­eled in the oppor­tu­ni­ty to walk, bike, or take the train to get to where I want­ed to go. Not being forced to dri­ve is a great blessing.

If I‑976 is imple­ment­ed, we will see more traf­fic on our roads and high­ways because more Wash­ing­to­ni­ans will be forced to dri­ve due to dev­as­tat­ing cuts in tran­sit ser­vice. The projects we are cur­rent­ly count­ing on to help us accom­mo­date expect­ed pop­u­la­tion growth and new devel­op­ment will be delayed or ter­mi­nat­ed. Traf­fic is already awful; the last thing we want to do is make it worse.

But that’s what we get with I‑976.

And if that weren’t bad enough, that traf­fic will in many places con­tin­ue to rely on bridges and over­pass­es that are in bad shape.

Safe­ty should mat­ter to us. It should be our top priority. 

The Skag­it Riv­er Bridge col­lapse in 2013 was a huge wake-up call for our state. In that inci­dent, a por­tion of the struc­ture that car­ries I‑5 over the Skag­it Riv­er col­lapsed because a com­mer­cial vehi­cle crossed the bridge in the wrong lane, result­ing in the bridge being struck by the vehi­cle’s trail­er. At the time of the inci­dent, the bridge was on the state’s list of func­tion­al­ly obso­lete structures.

We have more than one hun­dred and six­ty bridges and over­pass­es in “poor” con­di­tion. That means they’re even more at risk of fail­ure than the Skag­it Riv­er Bridge was. We need to fix or replace them.

I‑976 will inter­fere with plans to do that.

For those Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who do not own a car or can­not dri­ve, I‑976 rep­re­sents an even more ter­ri­fy­ing threat to their free­dom and their future.

What are peo­ple who don’t have a license sup­posed to do if ser­vices they rely on are ripped away? What about those who can’t dri­ve due to a disability?

What about those too young to hold a license? What about our seniors who can’t dri­ve any­more? What about those who find dri­ving chal­leng­ing, stress­ful, or dif­fi­cult? And what about those who have delib­er­ate­ly cho­sen not to own a car because they want to save mon­ey, save the plan­et, or both?

Too bad for them, because accord­ing to Tim Eyman, auto trav­el – and espe­cial­ly solo dri­ving – is the only mode of trans­porta­tion that our tax dol­lars ought to sup­port, and nev­er mind the con­se­quences of that choice, which are cat­a­stroph­ic for our cli­mate, health, and well being.

Peo­ple who can’t dri­ve should just suck it up and sub­si­dize pave­ment for those who can as they strug­gle to get around.

I com­plete­ly reject this kind of think­ing, and I urge you to as well by adopt­ing a res­o­lu­tion oppos­ing I‑976.

I bet you’ve heard the say­ing if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go togeth­er. It’s a great African proverb.

At Keep Wash­ing­ton Rolling, and at NPI, the orga­ni­za­tion I’m hon­ored to lead, we believe Wash­ing­to­ni­ans deserve free­dom of mobility.

We know that build­ing a great mul­ti­modal trans­porta­tion sys­tem can’t be done in a day or even a year. It requires decades of sus­tained work.

It’s a long jour­ney to get there. We are best served by under­tak­ing that jour­ney togeth­er. Pool­ing our resources to get things done is some­thing we’ve been doing ever since this coun­try was founded.

Ours is a strong and diverse coali­tion that includes busi­ness­es large and small, labor unions, envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, civic groups, elect­ed lead­ers, and com­mu­ni­ty activists. Unlike the oth­er side, we’re not a one man show with a few sup­port­ing stage­hands in the background.

We have joined forces to pro­tect the state that we love from I‑976. We are work­ing togeth­er – coop­er­a­tive­ly – to wage this cam­paign to the best of our abil­i­ty. We invite you and all lis­ten­ing to join us in vot­ing NO on Tim Eyman’s Ini­tia­tive 976 this autumn. Thank you very much for your atten­tion, and Hap­py October.

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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