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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.

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

Ten reasons why you should vote NO on Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 by November 5th

This year, voters in Washington must decide what to do with Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, a proposed law in the form of a ballot measure that would eliminate billions of dollars in existing bipartisan, voter-approved transportation investments.

You can see from our Initiative 976 Impact Map that communities all over the state would be negatively affected by cuts I-976 would force to projects and services:

Initiative 976 Impact Map

Here at the Northwest Progressive Institute, we’ve been working for eighteen months to organize opposition to I-976, because it is a grave threat to Washington’s future. If you are a Washington voter who hasn’t yet mind up their mind on I-976 — or if you know someone who is undecided — we hope you’ll join us in voting NO by this Tuesday. Here are ten reasons why we believe that voting NO on this measure is the only responsible and defensible choice.

Reason #1: I-976 would reduce public safety

We all want and deserve to be able to travel on roads, highways, and railways that are as safe as society knows how to make them. It’s why we wish each other “Safe travels!” when we say au revoir after having spent time together.

Our elected representatives have identified transportation safety as a top priority and have funded a host of road and highway safety improvements in recent transportation investment plans, from the installation of cable barriers in medians to the replacement of deteriorating, obsolete bridges and overpasses.

Tim Eyman’s I-976 threatens these investments, which remain in progress. I-976 would repeal billions of dollars in funding at the state and local levels appropriated to improve the safety of our transportation system.

That’s why the Washington State Troopers Association opposes I-976.

Here’s what the Troopers Association has to say about I-976:

“We oppose this dangerous measure because it would stop thousands of needed road safety repair projects across the state, putting driver and pedestrian safety at greater risk.”

Our Troopers know better than anyone else how much work remains to be done to improve safety on our roads and highways because they’re the ones who get called to the scene of countless crashes and collisions. Every day, they respond to incidents on our highways, many of which involve fatalities.

Many Troopers maintain Twitter accounts and use those accounts to post collision scene photos to remind Washingtonians of the importance of driving defensively, paying attention while behind the wheel, and obeying traffic laws.

These photos speak to the need for further investment to increase public safety on our roads. Here’s one republished by Trooper Johnna Batiste following the crash of a semi that jackknifed over the I-5 center barrier in Thurston County last month:

Collision on I-5 in Thurston County

Scene from a collision on Interstate 5 involving multiple semis (Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation)

Here’s a photo published by Trooper Chelsea Hodgson of a two car collision that caused injuries in Grapeview on State Route 3, also last month:

A car collision on State Route 3

Scene from a crash on State Route 3 (Photo: Washington State Patrol)

Here’s a photo published by Trooper Axtman of a crash on State Route 9 in Bickford, Snohomish County… again, last month:

Collision on State Route 9

Scene from a collision on State Route 9 near Bickford (Photo: Washington State Patrol)

All highway collisions are ultimately the result of human errors like inattentive driving, but safer roads can help minimize the damage that human error causes.

For instance, if the Skagit River Bridge (featured in coalition advertising) had been retrofitted before May 2013, Mullen Trucking couldn’t have brought a section of it down by traveling in a lane that lacked proper overhead clearance.

We owe it to ourselves to do everything we can to make our roads, highways, and railways safe. The data tells us we have a lot of work to do.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Washington State’s infrastructure a grade of “C” two years ago, when it last issued a report card. That was marginally better than the grade the country as a whole got (D-), but still lousy.

We can do better. And we must. Lives depend on our efforts.

“Operation and maintenance costs are extremely important for the condition of our roadways,” ASCE said in its commentary about the state of Washington’s roads. “New capital projects need to be resilient to natural disasters. Even with innovations in roadway technologies, the lack of funding — especially from federal sources — hinders the state’s ability to catch up to the ever-growing needs.”

From 2007 until 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Highway Administration, there were two hundred and forty-five fatal crashes and two hundred and fifty eight fatalities on the Washington portion of Interstate 5, which runs from Vancouver to Blaine. And that’s the death toll from just one highway over the span of one decade.

(See a compilation of the most dangerous highways across the county here.)

When you renew your vehicle’s registration, a significant amount of the fees you pay go to make our roads and bridges safer. Vote NO on I-976 to sustain Washington State’s vital efforts to improve the safety of our transportation system.

Reason #2: I-976 would make traffic worse… much worse

These are polarized times, but no matter what your political views are, you probably don’t enjoy sitting in stop and go traffic, idling in place or inching along at a snail’s pace towards your destination. It can be infuriating.

Recent population increases, coupled with new development, have placed additional strain on Washington’s aging roads and highways.

As bad as gridlock is now, it stands to get much worse if I-976 is implemented. That’s because I-976 would repeal funding for transit agencies all over the state, including King County Metro and Sound Transit in the greater Seattle area, but also small transit agencies in rural communities like Walla Walla’s Valley Transit, Clallam Transit, or Island County’s Island Transit.

We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of hours of bus service.

The loss of all that service will make infuriating gridlock more severe and more common. That’s because those Washingtonians who own cars but currently choose to ride the bus will switch back to driving once their bus service is cut.

They’ll have no other choice to get where they want to go.

Imagine the worst traffic you’ve sat in during the past year.

Then imagine dealing with that kind of traffic every single week.

If you value spending time with your family over jockeying for space on packed roads and highways with your fellow citizens, then vote NO on I-976.

Reason #3: I-976 would strand our carless neighbors

While most Washingtonians own vehicles, not all do. Many Washingtonians cannot drive due to a disability, or due to age (either they’re not old enough to obtain a license, or they’ve reached the age where they can’t safely operate a motor vehicle anymore). Still others do not wish to own a car, or cannot afford to own one.

I-976 would strand these Washingtonians by slashing their transit service.

As mentioned above, I-976 would force deep transit cuts in rural communities.

For example:

Clallam Transit is at risk of losing more than $1.1 million in operating revenue and $2.4 million in state funding for capital projects in 2020 if I-976 passes November 5th, according to information provided by [Clallam Transit Finance Manager Dunyele] Mason.

“In summary, it’s going to hit us hardest in capital, which will affect our operating indirectly because we will now have to set aside some capital,” Mason told the board.

“If this passes, the state is going to make some decisions in the next legislative session next spring,” she added.

“And based on those decisions, we will have a lot more information about where we would be.”

Clallam Transit Board Member and Port Angeles Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter said all public transportation agencies should be concerned about the impacts of I-976.

“If you look at a worst-case scenario potential, it would be really hard to get off the Peninsula without a car,” Dexter said. “Anyone who needs to get to hospitals in Seattle and relies on public transportation of any kind, including the ferries, even with a car, it could be problematic.”

Emphasis is mine.

Don't cut my bus!

Bus service at risk if Initiative 976 is implemented (Graphic by Keep Washington Rolling)

You might think everyone in rural communities owns and drives a car, but that’s actually not true. If I-976 is implemented, it would hit rural communities especially hard, because small transit agencies rely on state mobility grants for a big chunk of their funding. Don’t cut your neighbors off from transit… vote NO on I-976.

Reason #4: I-976 would eliminate good paying jobs

The many bipartisan, voter-approved projects that I-976 would repeal funding for all over the state support thousands of good paying, family wage union jobs in the building and construction trades and related fields.

Multimodal transportation projects require the services of skilled laborers, carpenters, sheet metal workers, ironworkers, pipefitters, electricians, plumbers, and so on. These are good jobs that pay a living wage and offer essential benefits, including healthcare coverage. Losing those jobs would be bad for our economy.

“I-976 means fewer jobs building and maintaining the infrastructure that Washington residents and businesses need for a thriving state economy,” the Washington State Labor Council says. “Working people in this state have seen the damage done by Tim Eyman’s previous attempts to gut motor vehicle excise taxes, and they want no part of it. That’s why the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and its six hundred plus affiliated unions have voted to oppose I-976.”

Unions that have declared their opposition to Tim Eyman’s I-976 include the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Laborers, SEIU, the United Automobile Workers, the Washington State Federation of State Employees (AFSCME), and the International Union of Operating Engineers.

The jobs that the members of these unions do can’t be outsourced. These are jobs that support other jobs in our communities. If they go away, we all pay a price.

Vote NO on I-976 to save good paying jobs for Washingtonians.

Reason #5: I-976 would increase pollution

Our planet’s climate has been severely damaged by centuries of fossil fuel use by humankind. As a consequence, we’re seeing a rise in sea level due to the melting of our polar ice caps. Our glaciers are melting, too, and communities around the world are experiencing more severe weather of all kinds.

This is a crisis… a crisis that demands action. We must reduce the pollution going into our air, water, and soil in order to protect the Earth, our common home.

Sadly, I-976 would worsen pollution in the Pacific Northwest at a time when we are trying to set a good example for the world by lowering our emissions. I-976, as mentioned, would result in reductions in bus service all over the state.

Vanpool funding would also be slashed.

But that’s not all.

The measure also seeks to repeal funding for expansion of Sound Transit’s light rail and commuter rail systems that voters previously approved. Light rail is vital to lowering transportation emissions because it can carry large numbers of people through congested corridors without burning any fossil fuels.

Sound Transit’s light rail vehicles don’t have tailpipes — they run on electricity, which can be sustainably generated using solar, wind, or hydroelectric power.

If more people in Washington’s urban core have access to light rail, they can choose a mode of transportation that doesn’t pollute. I-976 threatens to take that choice away from communities like Everett and Tacoma, which are at the ends of proposed new light rail lines due to be constructed between now and 2040.

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility says I-976 is also bad for public health in addition to our climate. They explain:

I-976 is inextricably connected to public health and climate. Gutting public transportation will increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, threatening our health and our climate progress. I-976 means more congestion, and numerous studies show that this will increase the risk of morbidity and mortality due to increased inhaled pollutants by those sitting in traffic. And more accidents and dangerous road conditions will result from I-976’s elimination of critical funding for highway improvements and maintenance.

The Earth is the one and only home we’ve got. There’s no other Earth we can move to if we wreck this one. We’ve got to care for our planet and ourselves.

Vote NO on I-976 to keep Washington on a path to greater sustainability.

Reason #6: I-976 would make our tax code more unfair

According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), Washington State has the most upside down, regressive tax code in the country. Those with the most pay the least, while those with the least pay the most.

“According to ITEP’s Tax Inequality Index, which measures the impact of each state’s tax system on income inequality, Washington has the most unfair state and local tax system in the country. Incomes are more unequal in Washington after state and local taxes are collected than before,” ITEP explains.

Initiative 976 attempts to exacerbate this inequity by slashing vehicle fees to a flat thirty dollars everywhere, meaning that a rich Washingtonian who owns a Ferrari or a Lamborgini (or perhaps both!) would pay exactly the same to register their vehicle as a low or middle income Washingtonian who owns a Corolla or a Civic.

Under I-976, the RTA MVET (motor vehicle excise tax) collected by the Department of Licensing for Sound Transit would be repealed, eliminating Washington’s only transportation-specific revenue source that is tied to ability to pay.

Why should a car that is worth $97,000, $57,000, $37,000, or $27,000 cost the same to register as a vehicle that’s worth just $7,000?

Tesla Roadster vs. Toyota Camry

Tim Eyman thinks it should cost the same to register a Tesla Roadster (top) anywhere in Washington as it does to register a Toyota Camry (bottom). That’s ridiculous.

Wealthy Washingtonians don’t need another tax cut, but Tim Eyman wants to give them one anyway. The poorest Washingtonians, meanwhile, would get only a meager tax cut and be stuck with worse traffic and worse pollution.

I-976’s unfairness doesn’t stop there.

If I-976 is implemented, there’s a strong possibility that we could see an increase in ferry/bus/train fares and tolls to cover some of the operating costs that were previously supported by vehicle registration fees. Those fares and tolls will fall more heavily upon people with fixed or limited incomes than people who are buying Aston Martins or Jaguars and getting a nice big Tim Eyman crafted tax cut.

Vote NO on I-976 to stop Washington’s tax code from becoming more unfair.

Reason #7: I-976 is “catastrophic” for our housing market

Matthew Gardner, the chief economist for Windermere, has gone on record saying that I-976 would be “catastrophic” for Washington’s housing market.

In an interview with KIRO’s Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, Gardner described what he thinks will happen to the market if the measure is implemented.

“I think (I-976) is terrible,” Windermere Real Estate Chief Economist Matthew Gardner told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. “The effects are going to be potentially catastrophic.”

Gardner’s argument centers around the effect $30 car tabs would have on transit. Opponents have estimated the $30 car tabs measure would wipe out over $4 billion total in state, regional, and local transportation funding over the next decade. Officials also forecast being forced to delay or cancel various transportation projects.

If that happens, Gardner warns it could significantly affect the way people approach the home-buying process, both in Western Washington and across the state.

“Where we talk about price of homes, the further you are away, the cheaper it becomes,” said Gardner.

“You still have to get to your jobs, and the trouble is it’s going to cut back significantly on buses, but not just buses on our existing road system — half of our ferry system will become obsolete by 2040.”

“If (I-976) passes, it’s only going to further decrease affordability — people live closest to where they need to be,” he added.

Access to affordable housing is already a problem in the greater Seattle-Tacoma-Everett area. Let’s not make that problem worse.

Vote NO on I-976 to avoid exacerbating lack of access to affordable housing.

Reason #8: I-976 will increase vehicle maintenance costs

If you do own a car, don’t expect to save any money in the long term under I-976. Not only will you pay more for gasoline or diesel fuel due to poorer fuel economy caused by sitting in increased traffic (if your car is powered by combustion), your car will be traveling over roads that are not being maintained properly.

And that will increase the total cost to own your vehicle(s). Significantly.

The repeated use of a vehicle on bad roads causes a vehicle’s key parts to wear out much faster, including its tires and suspension system.

“While all tires eventually wear down and need replacing, the rate at which they lose their tread depends on how much friction there is with the road,” explains Strutmasters, a family-owned suspension manufacturer.

“Normal driving on well-maintained roads with a good suspension means there will be minimal up-and-down movement of the tires on the road.”

Note the phrase well-maintained roads in that explanation.

Potholes, meanwhile, are a grave threat to those same parts.

Mechanic Jeff White of Garry’s Service Center, a New Hampshire based automotive shop, told New Hampshire Public Radio in 2013 that many of his customers end up with repairs totaling more than $1,000 in a given year from bad roads.

Emily Corwin reports:

White says “when you go over a really big pothole, you can damage suspension parts and steering parts.” Frost heaves and potholes also cause a car’s wheels to go out of alignment.

Then, White says, “the car will either drift right or left, and what that causes, besides a lot of annoyance, is it quickly wears tires.”

Folks driving sports cars will likely have the most road-related damage, White says, including bent and broken rims.

Cities like Spokane are using vehicle fees to pay for road resurfacing and pothole fixing projects. If I-976 is implemented, those funds will be wiped out, and bad roads will not get fixed. It costs money to keep roads well-maintained.

If your vehicle registration costs go down a few bucks, but you then have to pony up thousands for car repairs caused by driving on rutted roads, then you haven’t saved any money at all. You’ve simply put yourself further in the hole.

Vote NO on I-976 to protect yourself against unnecessary car repair bills.

Reason #9: I-976 would overturn local decisions

Home rule and local control over decisionmaking is important to Washingtonians. It’s why we have so many local governments: port districts, school districts, water districts, sewer districts, public utility districts, and even cemetery and mosquito control districts in addition to our cities (municipal corporations) and counties.

I-976 would repeal the authority the state previously gave to cities and to voters in urban Puget Sound to tax themselves to raise funds for badly needed transportation improvements. More than sixty cities rely on vehicle fees to fund essential road maintenance and street repairs. The list includes:

  • Bainbridge Island
  • Battle Ground
  • Black Diamond
  • Bremerton
  • Bridgeport
  • Buckley
  • Burien
  • Carbonado
  • Covington
  • Des Moines
  • DuPont
  • Edgewood
  • East Wenatchee
  • Eatonville
  • Electric City
  • Elmer City
  • Edmonds
  • Enumclaw
  • Everett
  • Fife
  • George
  • Grandview
  • Granite Falls
  • Kalama
  • Kelso
  • Kenmore
  • Kittitas
  • Lake Forest Park
  • Lakewood
  • Longview
  • Lynnwood
  • Mabton
  • Maple Valley
  • Mercer Island
  • Moses Lake
  • Mountlake Terrace
  • Normandy Park
  • Olympia
  • Orting
  • Port Orchard
  • Prosser
  • Richland
  • Roy
  • Royal City
  • Seattle
  • Sedro-Woolley
  • Shoreline
  • Snoqualmie
  • Soap Lake
  • Spokane
  • Tacoma
  • Toppenish
  • University Place
  • Vancouver
  • Wapato
  • Wenatchee
  • Wilkeson
  • Yakima
  • Zillah

I-976 also attempts to overturn the 2016 Sound Transit 3 vote, in which more than a million voters participated. A decisive majority of the electorate decided to tax themselves to fund mass transit expansion in urban King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. I-976 proponent Tim Eyman doesn’t care: he is obsessed with ripping the heart out of Sound Transit and gutting the agency like a pig.

If implemented, I-976 would rip away funding for light rail, commuter rail, express bus, and bus rapid transit expansion projects that Sound Transit is working to deliver to the voters. Because I-976 is a statewide initiative, it could pass even if a majority of those inside Sound Transit’s jurisdiction vote against it.

“Curiously, while touting a conservative line on taxation, Eyman’s measure undermines three tenets of conservative governance: local control, designating funds for specific purposes, and user fees in which those who use a service pay for it,” the Yakima Herald-Republic noted in its editorial opposing Initiative 976.

“His initiative also brushes aside the reality that due to inflation, $30 doesn’t buy what it did in 1999, especially in road construction and maintenance.”

“And while Eyman espouses the sanctity of voter approval of taxes, he seeks to employ the rest of the state into overturning the voters’ will in the three-county Sound Transit district — a legacy of his obsessive enmity toward trains and buses.”

“If voters in the Puget Sound region want to raise their own taxes for Sound Transit — they have done so three times since 1996 — they can have at it,” the newspaper’s editorial board declared. “This is not our fight, nor is it the fight of the thirty-six counties not paying into that particular agency.”

Vote NO on I-976 to uphold Washington’s cherished tradition of home rule.

Reason #10: Vehicle fees shouldn’t be based on what Kelley Blue Book (a private company) thinks a car is worth

In addition to attempting to repeal the voter-approved motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) that the Department of Licensing collects on behalf of Sound Transit, Initiative 976 stipulates that any motor vehicle excise tax levied in the future must use Kelley Blue Book to determine the value of the vehicle.

This is problematic because Kelley Blue Book is a private company that may or may not remain a going concern in the future, and its data doesn’t necessarily reflect what buyers and sellers consider a vehicle’s market value to be.

From Section 8 of I-976:

For the purpose of determining a vehicle tax, a taxing district imposing a vehicle tax must set a vehicle’s taxable value at the vehicle’s base model Kelley Blue book value. This ensures an honest and accurate calculation of the tax and, combined with the appeal process in RCW 82.44.065, ensures that vehicle owners are taxed on their vehicle’s market value.

Using Kelley Blue Book does not ensure an honest or accurate calculation of anything. Fair market value is what a prospective buyer is willing to pay and what a prospective seller is willing to accept in return for the title to a vehicle.

If a vehicle you own is severely damaged in a car collision, an insurer (perhaps yours) will make a determination as to whether the vehicle is totaled or not. You, as the vehicle’s owner, can dispute that determination and haggle with the insurer.

If the insurer determines the vehicle is totaled — meaning it costs more to repair than what it’s worth — the insurer will not cover the entirety of the repair bill, assuming the car is even repairable. Insurers do not rely on Kelley Blue Book to determine a car’s worth, and for good reason: what Kelley Blue Book thinks a car is worth may not resemble what a car is actually worth.

Kelley Blue Book even admits this in an FAQ on their website:

Please note that insurance companies do not have any obligation to use Kelley Blue Book pricing to determine replacement values. Insurance companies use Kelley Blue Book as a reference but will set their own policies as to which values they use.

The total loss rules in state regulations permit an insurer to determine the value of a car using one of the following methods, which don’t include Kelley Blue Book:

  • Offer to replace your car with an available and comparable car (leg.wa.gov) in your local area.
  • Offer you a cash settlement based on the actual cash value of comparable cars in your local area.
  • If you and your insurer cannot agree on the actual cash value of your totaled car, your insurance policy may have an appraisal provision in which you and the insurer agree to use independent appraisers or other methods to resolve the value dispute.

Again, suppose your vehicle got damaged in a collision and you looked up what Kelley Blue Book calculated that a car of that same make, model, and model year is worth. You discover it’s not as much as you thought.

Would you be happy if the insurer insisted on using KBB’s data as the basis for deciding how much to offer you for your vehicle?

As stated above, insurers do not rely on Kelley Blue Book to determine what a car is worth, and neither should we as taxpayers and vehicle owners.

The existing schedule that is in use, which is based on the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price plus depreciation, should definitely be replaced with a better system. But Kelley Blue Book is not a suitable replacement.

Vote NO on I-976 to stop Tim Eyman’s scheme to tie any future motor vehicle excise tax to the data created by Kelley Blue Book owner Cox Automotive Group.


Congratulations on making it all the way to the end of this post! Thanks for reading and please remember to vote NO on I-976 by November 5th at 8 PM!

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