Tim Eyman's Anti-Tolling Initiative Ruined by Sneak Attack on Light Rail

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Last week, Tim Eyman sent around a post I did back in July on his anti-tolling initiative. "Liberal Seattle Weekly's supportive editorial on I-1125 worth rereading," he wrote in his e-mail blast. Hey, thanks, Tim! Just one thing: I won't be voting for the measure thanks to a sneaky and potentially damaging clause.

That clause would most likely stop light rail from going across I-90 as planned. This is crazy. First of all, voters have already said they want the trains--and, as Seattle Times' Danny Westneat pointed out in a recent column, will be taxing themselves for light rail whether they get it or not.

Secondly, light rail makes the most sense when it is used for commuting significant distances. Sure, the trains are nice to ride from South Seattle to downtown. I use them almost every day, and they're wonderfully efficient and pleasant. But buses served that short commute fairly well. What makes the light rail system more exciting is its expansion to the Eastside and North Seattle. Ideally, light rail would be the kind of comprehensive commuter system that works so well in San Francisco, Boston, and New York.

There's a reason I didn't initially pay attention to this aspect of I-1125: Eyman doesn't broadcast it. It's not in his promotional material. Nor is it in the ballot summary provided by the Secretary of State--or even, in any clear way, in the text of the initiative itself. You have to know that by banning the use of toll- or gas-tax-funded highway lanes for "non-highway purposes," the initiative is nixing light rail on I-90 (or for that matter on the 520 bridge).

Eyman, speaking with Seattle Weekly yesterday, says the initiative is just restating the 18th amendment of our state constitution. "What we're saying is that the 18th amendment still exists. And what we're finding is that a lot of politicians don't seem to care about it."

So maybe he'd have grounds for a lawsuit. But pushing an anti-light rail agenda this way is deceptive, and it also has very little to do with the ostensible purpose of the initiative: reigning in bureaucrats' seemingly limitless appetite for tolls. The better-known parts of the initiative would make tolls harder to enact by giving that power to the legislature. The initiative would also require that toll revenue go to a particular project, and that tolls end when a project is complete.

I still think the last two stipulations, in particular, are good ideas. And I agree with Eyman when he says that government officials "think that tolls should go on forever, be imposed on anyone, and used for anything."

When he gives us an honest initiative that does something about that, it'd be worth considering..

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