NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, November 10th, 2021

Lynnwood’s $40 city vehicle fee stays intact in victory for multimodal transportation

A Tim Eyman-backed attempt in the Sno­homish Coun­ty city of Lyn­nwood to repeal the city’s $40/year vehi­cle fee has been thwart­ed by a may­oral veto, leav­ing fund­ing for vital mul­ti­modal trans­porta­tion projects intact.

May­or Nico­la Smith, who will soon be leav­ing office, decid­ed on Novem­ber 3rd to veto the Coun­cil’s repeal ordi­nance, which Tim Eyman had dubbed a “huge car tabs vic­to­ry” and a “big win!” The may­or not­ed that “none of the reg­u­lar and impor­tant bud­get­ing best prac­tices were fol­lowed in the Coun­cil’s rushed process for Ordi­nance No. 3400” and that the Coun­cil “dis­re­gard­ed prop­er pro­ce­dure” for seek­ing pub­lic input in its zeal to do the bid­ding of anti-tax forces.

“Ordi­nance 3400 has the poten­tial to jeop­ar­dize the safe­ty and lifes­pan of Lyn­nwood’s streets and roads,” the May­or added.

“This infra­struc­ture is crit­i­cal to the eco­nom­ic vibran­cy of our local busi­ness­es, and exists because of incal­cu­la­ble amounts of past invest­ments of pub­lic monies.”

“Lyn­nwood’s heav­i­ly-trav­eled streets and side­walks require con­tin­u­al main­te­nance. The cost to rem­e­dy the results of deferred main­te­nance are unaf­ford­able. Approx­i­mate­ly $1 mil­lion in rev­enue for streets and side­walks each year, or about one-third of Trans­porta­tion Ben­e­fit Dis­trict (TBD) rev­enue, come from vehi­cle license fees. Analy­ses of Lyn­nwood’s TBD pro­gram indi­cates that cur­rent rev­enues do not meet the need now.”

“Vehi­cle license fees fund ongo­ing road and traf­fic sig­nal main­te­nance, street over­lays, side­walk and ADA improve­ments, and main­te­nance of cross­walks. At this time of rapid growth and the immi­nent arrival of light rail, the City should ensure our local trans­porta­tion sys­tem is ready to meet these challenges.”

Lyn­nwood is for­tu­nate that May­or Smith was will­ing to take a stand against this incred­i­bly dumb anti-tax stam­pede by the Coun­cil, cheered on by Eyman. If the repeal had gone through, Lyn­nwood’s trans­porta­tion fund­ing would have tak­en a mas­sive hit, deal­ing a huge blow to the city’s efforts to imple­ment its Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act tran­si­tion plan and pro­vide basic street maintenance.

A sub­se­quent attempt by the anti-tax fac­tion on the Coun­cil to over­ride Smith’s veto failed because none of the coun­cilmem­bers who orig­i­nal­ly vot­ed against the ordi­nance switched sides, leav­ing the anti-tax fac­tion one vote short.

As the May­or’s above-excerpt­ed veto mes­sage made clear, Lyn­nwood has lim­it­ed mech­a­nisms avail­able to it for fund­ing its trans­porta­tion needs.

The Coun­cil pro­posed doing away with a source of fund­ing that pro­vides a third of its TBD rev­enue with­out replac­ing that fund­ing. Yet, bizarrely, pri­or to the vote on over­rrid­ing the May­or’s veto, Coun­cil Pres­i­dent George Hurst — a mem­ber of the anti-tax fac­tion — told his col­leagues: “I would hope we’re going to pro­vide more fund­ing for roads. I think we can do it with­out this vehi­cle fee.”

But Hurst did not explain how the city could pro­vide more fund­ing for roads despite gut­ting one of its key trans­porta­tion fund­ing sources, which cur­rent­ly pro­vides a third of the city’s trans­porta­tion fund­ing. Very Eymanesque.

This is typ­i­cal deceit­ful anti-tax rhetoric.

Cam­paign­ers for gut­ting tax­es always por­tray tax cuts as a pos­i­tive move and fre­quent­ly argue that there’s either plen­ty of mon­ey out there for our needs or that we can find the mon­ey need­ed to pay for pub­lic ser­vices some oth­er way.

They then con­ve­nient­ly fail to pro­pose that oth­er way.

Vehi­cle fees pro­vide sta­ble fund­ing that Lyn­nwood can count on for its trans­porta­tion needs. They are paid by res­i­dents who own cars, who are the heav­i­est impact users of the city’s streets. Those who don’t own a car do not have to pay a fee. The mon­ey stays in the city and improves the city’s qual­i­ty of life.

The anti-tax fac­tion argues that since Lyn­nwood vot­ers approved Eyman’s I‑976 in 2019, vot­ers want their vehi­cle fees slashed, and the Coun­cil should oblige them.

How­ev­er, most Lyn­nwood vot­ers actu­al­ly did not return a bal­lot in the 2019 gen­er­al elec­tion and thus did not weigh in on I‑976 either way. Turnout for city races two years ago was just 41.84%, which was even low­er than the coun­ty’s over­all turnout of 42.90%, accord­ing to Sno­homish Coun­ty elec­tions.

Those vot­ers who did vote in 2019 saw a bal­lot title that decep­tive­ly asked if they want­ed to “lim­it” vehi­cle fees to thir­ty dol­lars per year (though fees would actu­al­ly have been lim­it­ed to $43.25, not $30, even after full imple­men­ta­tion of the ini­tia­tive), with the excep­tion of “vot­er approved charges” (but even charges pre­vi­ous­ly approved by vot­ers would also have been wiped out).

The I‑976 bal­lot title did not explain that pas­sage of the ini­tia­tive would erase bil­lions of dol­lars in fund­ing for roads, bridges, tran­sit, pub­lic safe­ty, and freight mobil­i­ty. And it did not say that local street fund­ing would be wiped out in cities like Lyn­nwood. Had it done so, the out­come might well have been different.

As May­or Smith argued, elect­ed lead­ers have a duty to look out for the needs of the peo­ple they rep­re­sent. Bas­ing the city’s pub­lic pol­i­cy on the out­come of a decep­tive­ly word­ed statewide bal­lot mea­sure that was so bad­ly writ­ten it was struck down in its entire­ty by the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court does not make sense. May­or Smith is to be com­mend­ed for pro­tect­ing Lyn­nwood’s future against the bad ideas of the City Coun­cil’s anti-tax fac­tion. Thank you, May­or. Well done!

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