Next Tuesday evening, just after 8 PM, we’ll start to get an idea of what voters are going to do with Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, an incredibly destructive statewide measure that would wipe out billions of dollars in bipartisan, voter approved transportation investments at every level… state, regional, and local.
While much of the coverage of I‑976 has focused on potential impacts to Sound Transit and King County Metro in the heavily populated Puget Sound area, the reality is that the harm would be much more widespread.
In fact, small rural communities where anti-tax sentiment tends to be the strongest would be the hardest hit, because those places would be simultaneously robbed of already-approved funding plus the authority to raise funds in the future for neighborhood transportation improvements through vehicle fees.
In the past few weeks, Washington’s small town newspapers have published story after story looking at the projects and services that would likely be eliminated or delayed if I‑976 were to be implemented. These stories are worth reading to understand the magnitude of the destruction that would be wrought.
Let’s begin our roundup of the local impacts in southwest Washington, where several cities are bracing for the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in street maintenance funding, plus cuts to bus service in Cowlitz County:
Initiative 976 on the Nov. 5 general election ballot would eliminate Longview’s transportation benefit district (TBD), which allows the city to impose car tab fees for transportation improvements. Even with the TBD revenue, Longview street maintenance is already severely underfunded, according to consultants.
“We are not providing near enough money to maintain streets,” Public Works Director Jeff Cameron said last week.
Kelso, too, would be put in a bind if the measure passes, because it would yank the source of funds for projects already undertaken.
I‑976 implementation would cost Longview $615,000, Kelso $175,000, and Kalama $100,000. Those might not sound like huge sums, but they’re big for small towns in regions of Washington far from the Seattle metro area.
Now to Southeast Washington: Here’s a story from the Walla Walla Union Bulletin on the impacts to the Palouse area if Initiative 976 passes.
Columbia County Public Transportation, in Dayton, faces a large budget cut with the initiative. It could potentially lose $1 million in the first year, which is 40% of the agency’s budget.
“This money is needed to keep the doors open and the buses rolling,” said David Ocampo, the general manager of Columbia County transit.
A few weeks ago, the Union-Bulletin published an equally great piece by Jerry Cummins that talked about cuts to Valley Transit. Wrote Cummins:
In the coming year, Valley Transit is anticipated to receive $394,376 in special transportation needs funding and $177,000 in sales tax equalization funds. These funds would be on the chopping block to shore up Washington’s multimodal budget for the year.
This funding gap could be anticipated to continue with a loss of funding to Walla Walla Valley’s Public Transit ranging between $350,000 and $400,000 in the years to follow based on the amount of funding that would be left after the passage of I‑976.
Moving on to Whatcom County: Here’s a story from the Bellingham Herald that discusses how communities near the Canadian border would be hurt by I‑976.
“The most direct impact to Whatcom County will be the loss of (state) Rural Arterial Trust Account funds for rural arterial maintenance and Motor Vehicle Account funds for the Lummi Island ferry,” said Joe Rutan, county engineer and assistant director of public works. “The potential largest impact will be the lack of available grant funds to accomplish much-needed pedestrian and bicycle improvements.”
The nearby San Juans would be in a similar boat (pun intended). I‑976 would be disastrous for Washington State Ferries, as the Islands’ Sounder reported:
Jim Corenman, chair of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee, [said:] “I‑976, if passed, would be a disaster for most transit modes other than cars. Given WSF’s current $45 million biennium allocation from the multimodal account — about 9 percent of its operating income — significant service reductions and/or fare increases are likely.” Corenman notes that passage of Eyman’s I‑695 in 2000 resulted in nearly doubled fare increases over the following years, and halted new vessel construction for the next decade.
To the south, Island County, which consists of Whidbey Island and most of Camano Island, would also be a big loser. Via the Whidbey News-Times:
If I‑976 passes, the state would lose $4.2 billion in transportation funding over six years. The revenue for the multi-modal account that funds Island Transit would lose an estimated $1.5 billion, a cut of about 70 percent. Island Transit received about 17 percent of its annual revenues from the multi-modal fund, which amounts to $3.27 million this year, according to Island Transit.
The funds that would be in jeopardy are $1.8 million for bus service, more than $600,000 for paratransit service, $340,000 for county connectors and about $500,000 for replacement vanpool vans, Island Transit reported.
In Covington, which is closer to Washington State’s urban center, nearly half a million in annual street funding could be lost. Via the Covington Reporter:
“If I‑976 passed we would lose about $400,000 a year in revenues that goes strictly to our roads,” Covington Mayor Jeff Wagner said. “So our budget workshops are held int he last Saturday of October. We pushed it to November 16th. We’re waiting till after the election … there is no reason to have a budget workshop to have to come back to change things if we have a $400,000 shortfall.”
The loss of the yearly $400,000 would be a blow to the city since the money from the car tabs is used specifically for maintenance and upkeep on the roads. Wagner said when it comes to building new roads or infrastructure, the city is able to receive state and federal grants to help ease the budget’s burdens.
In Yakima, it’s a similar story. The Yakima Herald-Republic recently published a deep dive on how I‑976 could hurt the Heart of Central Washington:
Funds collected through the additional registration fee go into a transportation benefit district for cities.
Yakima alone receives about $1.6 million a year from the benefit district the initiative would take away. Those funds are used to secure loans and bonds on large projects.
The TBD [transportation benefit district] money is needed to finish the remaining two phases of the $15.5 million North First Street project and other projects, said city spokesman Randy Beehler.
The city has several additional street and sidewalk projects, some part of the Safe Routes to School program, totaling more than $4 million that are dependent on TBD funding, he said.
“Without the TBD funds, those projects don’t happen for the foreseeable future,” he said. “We wouldn’t have that funding source. Those projects on the TBD list would be either significantly delayed or possibly canceled.”
The Tri-Cities, a short drive away from Yakima on I‑82, are at risk of losing road maintenance money too. The Tri-City Herald was one of the first papers east of the Cascades to examine the destructive impact of I‑976, back in the summer:
Mayors in Richland and Prosser say the initiative’s passage would force tough choices — let roads deteriorate, cut other expenses or raise property taxes. “At the end of the day, you have to pay for your stuff,” Richland Mayor Bob Thompson told the Herald. “The question is, whose ox is gored?”
What all these stories remind us is that there is no free lunch, contrary to what Tim Eyman has tried to argue. Money does not grow on trees: Revenue cuts mean service cuts. Revenue cuts also jeopardize federal grants and impair borrowing capabilities. If I‑976 is implemented, the consequences will be disastrous.
Every region of the state would lose with Tim Eyman’s I‑976, as you can see from our I‑976 Impact Map, a groundbreaking data visualization:Initiative 976 Impact Map
Vote NO on I‑976 by Tuesday, November 8th!