Eyman’s Initiative 985 Adds $290 Million to State Budget for Road Building

Rather than solving any budget problems it appears that Eyman’s latest initiative gimmick will add another $290 million dollars to the currently projected $2.7 billion state budget deficit. A cutesy sound bite to end traffic congestion helped Eyman to buy enough signatures to most likely get the measure on the November ballot.

Hidden away in the Initiative 985 fine print is its real purpose – dedicate more money to road building while opposing its use for park and ride lots, or bike paths or buses or transit.

Unfortunately what paid signature gatherers getting paid by the signature never do is explain the fine print on the back of the initiative and what it will mean to taxpayers. And unfortunately not many voters take the time to ask what the initiative really does before they sign.

And if they did ask they wouldn’t have gotten the truth because Eyman wasn’t about to tell anyone that the real intent of Initiative 985 is to dedicate more money to road building. The State’s gas tax is already pledged to fund highways by the Washington State Constitution and Eyman wants to add even more to the pot to build more roads.

Petition signers are a pretty gullible lot, usually signing to put a complex measure onto the ballot without taking the time to read it. Eyman’s measures in the past have frequently been poorly written and have been frequently overturned in court. Many times their true impact is hidden away in the fine print

One reason for this is, unlike a bill in the state legislature, initiatives never have to stand up to the scrutiny of public hearings and revisions like most bills passed by the state legislature go through. They are never vetted by the public before they are on the street for signatures. Eyman’s initiatives are special interest legislation written mostly with an eye to keeping Eyman’s initiative business afloat and to promote his personal ideology.

This year his sugar daddy backed out of underwriting what has become a half million dollar business of paying to collect the signatures necessary to get a place on the ballot. Eyman took out a loan against his house to help underwrite his initiative mill business.

Initiative 985 sets up a dedicated fund, taking 15% of taxes on on new and used cars, toll fees above costs and red light camera fines that went into the general fund and commits this money only to Eyman’s traffic congestion (road building) fund. Such dedicated funds removes the flexibility to deal with changing priorities and needs, particularly in times of budget deficits like we are now in. It avoids the public scrutiny of the legislative budget process.

Eyman is trying to sell the initiative’s main purpose as opening up car pool lanes and synchronizing traffic lights but just how much money can you spend synchronizing traffic lights and opening up carpool lanes once you set them up?

Just how many tow trucks can taxpayers pay for? Not that many, because that’s not the real purpose of the initiative. Hidden away in the fine print of the initiative is it’s real purpose.

Eyman says that once you pay for synchronizing traffic lights, opening up car pool lanes and increasing emergency vehicles, that the money (estimated to be $145 million per year) be spent for “any other purpose which reduces traffic congestion by reducing vehicle delay by expanding road capacity and general purpose use to improve traffic flow for all vehicles”.

Eyman continues that “Purposes to improve traffic flow for all vehicles do not include creating, maintaining or operating bike paths or lanes, wildlife crossings, landscaping, park and ride lots, ferries, trolleys, buses, monorail, light rail or heavy rail.” This is a quote from the initiative wording on the back of the initiative most people never read. Normally one would include these measures as ways to reduce congestion. But not Tim Eyman.

O.K now maybe you understand this initiative . It’s simple. It’s to build more roads for cars. Eyman’s trying to sell the initiative as opening carpool lanes and synchronizing traffic lights to reduce traffic congestion but once that’s done the bulk of the money can only be used to buy more asphalt or concrete “to expand road capacity.” and “improve traffic flow” The money can not be shifted for other purposes.

The initiative appropriates all monies from red light traffic cameras and toll costs beyond collection to road building. It appropriates 15% of all car fees collected by the state. And it can only be spent “to expand road capacity” and “improving traffic flow.”

Initiative 985 is the lazy man’s non-thinking approach to transportation problems. It blames poorly timed traffic lights and car pool lanes and not enough tow trucks as the problem. Maybe the real problem is too many people driving single occupancy vehicles. Building more roads only puts us in competition with Los Angeles style sprawl.

With rising gas prices that are likely to go even higher, people need less expensive alternatives and less polluting to getting around. Eyman’s proposed dedicated money for more roads would be better spent on reducing transportation miles traveled by promoting more carpooling and van pooling, more bike lanes and sidewalks and better public transit. The real issue facing us is how to reduce transportation vehicle miles traveled that contribute to global warming, not putting more cars on the road.

There is only so much money to go around and dedicating $290 million dollars every two years to building more roads for more car travel in a time of rising gasoline prices and increasing global warming seems a terribly misplaced priority.

Too bad people don’t take the time to read what they are really signing. Eyman is trying to pull a fast one here.

Building more roads is not the answer to traffic congestion, yet that is what the bulk of the money will be limited to if voters pass Initiative 985. Voters just need to say no to Tim Eyman and Initiative 985!

see also:

Floyd J McKay, Seattle Times 4/16/2008 “Tim Eyman’s traffic initiative is bogus

Chris Mulick, TriCityHerald 7/6/2008 “2 initiatives could bungle state budget”

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