I-976 is passing, worrying transit advocates

The initiative promises $30 car tabs, but opponents say it will destroy state transit infrastructure.

Political activist Tim Eyman rallies support for Initiative 976 on Tuesday afternoon at the corner of NE 8th Street and Bellevue Way NE in Bellevue. Photos by Aaron Kunkler/Sound Publishing

Political activist Tim Eyman rallies support for Initiative 976 on Tuesday afternoon at the corner of NE 8th Street and Bellevue Way NE in Bellevue. Photos by Aaron Kunkler/Sound Publishing

Initiative 976, which would cap car tabs at $30 and drain transportation budgets statewide, is passing by nearly 10 points in initial results from the Nov. 5 election.

The initiative, the latest from serial campaigner Tim Eyman, proposed a $30 statewide cap on car tabs. Opponents of the initiative say if it’s approved it will lead to transit and transportation projects across the state losing massive amounts of funding. The initiative singles out taxing district, and especially Sound Transit, which could lose some $20 billion in funding.

Eyman said voters felt misled by Sound Transit’s ST3 package, which included raising car tabs to fund a massive expansion of light rail throughout the region. Many people saw their annual car tab renewal cost rise into the hundreds of dollars. As of 8:50, it was passing by around 54.61%.

“People feel just really shafted by that,” he said on the afternoon of Nov. 5.

The initiative would keep car tabs at $30 for vehicles under 10,000 pounds and base the base taxes on the Kelley Blue Book value rather than 85% of the manufacturer’s recommended retail price. It would also destroy transportation benefit district’s ability to collect fees. Sound Transit would be barred from implementing motor vehicle excise taxes too.

However, transit advocates say that if it is approved, I-976 would remove a number of transportation and transit funding mechanisms from state and local coffers. The Office of Financial Management released a report saying the state could lose more than $1.9 billion over the next six years. Local governments across the state would lose around $2.3 billion. Sound Transit said it could lose upwards of $20 billion through 2041.

“We don’t know whether we succeeded or failed yet because there’s too much outstanding, this could be a long counting period,” said Andrew Villeneuve with the Northwest Progressive Institute, which opposed I-976.

Sound Transit said ST3 could be pushed back to 2060, nearly 20 years longer than was originally scheduled. It would also remove funding for bus and rapid transit rollouts and local transporation projects. This could lead emissions to rise. Funding for state agencies including the State Patrol, the Department of Transportation and the ferry system could be reduced too.

Rural mobility grants, vanpool investments and green transportation grants could be in jeopardy as well.

I-976 garnered opposition from organizations across the state, including the Washington State Patrol associations and a political action committee known as Keep Washington Rolling. Keep Washington Rolling had raised and spent about $4.5 million, with Microsoft being a major contributor.

Eyman’s PACs include Voters Want More Choices and Permanent Offense, which had spent considerably less at $723,000, according to Ballotpedia.

Several of Eyman’s initiatives have passed over the last 20 years only to later be overturned or repealed by the legislature or courts. I-776 in 2002 proposed a cut to motor vehicle excise taxes and was later overturned as unconstitutional. I-747 proposed cuts to local property taxes and passed only to be ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Villeneuve said transit advocates would likely file to bar the initiative from taking effect, or the Legislature could take action too. He said if it passes, it could significantly impact traffic, pollution and create a more inequitable tax code.

“Tonight is just another chapter over what kind of transportation future Washington will have,” he said. “This is not the end of the fight.”

King County executive Dow Constantine issued a press release along with the King County Council. The Transit Union Local 587 and Kenmore mayor and Sound Transit board member David Baker also signed onto the release.

“At King County we stand ready to consider all options to prevent Metro service bus cuts that will cause further congestion on our roadways, diminish service to our most vulnerable riders on Access paratransit, and delay the electrification of Metro’s fleet,” Constantine said in the release.

The election results will be finalized by Nov. 26.


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Tim Eyman get in some last minute campaigning for I-976 in downtown Bellevue on the afternoon of Nov. 5. The initiative would set car tabs at $30 statewide with opponents warning it would bankrupt transit projects across the state. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

Tim Eyman get in some last minute campaigning for I-976 in downtown Bellevue on the afternoon of Nov. 5. The initiative would set car tabs at $30 statewide with opponents warning it would bankrupt transit projects across the state. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo

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