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.”
“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.
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.