[UPDATE: commenter Advokat asserts that the Sound Transit bonds don’t have defeasance provisions, and so the initiative wouldn’t have any direct impact on Sound Transit. If so, that’s one less horrible thing that this initiative would do. I’ve asked Sound Transit to clarify.]
Fresh off a victory making tax increases and closing of tax loopholes nearly impossible, initiative guru Tim Eyman has filed a number of initiatives to make things specifically worse for transportation. These are technically initiatives to the legislature, giving them the chance to act. Assuming Eyman’s organization collects the signatures and the legislature does not act, they would go to the ballot. According to the P-I, who broke the story, these are basically trial balloons for the November 2011 election.
All the details are at the Secretary of State’s website. There are several variations of a rehash of the $30 license fee issue, but I read the most recent one, Initiative 473. “Highlights” of a broad attack on vehicle taxes and fees:
- Eliminate the ability of Transportation Benefit Districts to levy a $20 license fee without a public vote, as Seattle is likely to do soon.
- Sound Transit’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), previously protected in Court from a past car-tab initiative because it was used to guarantee bond payments, would have to be dedicated to immediately retiring those bonds. As of August, ST predicted that MVET would generate about 9.6% of its tax revenue through 2023. Eliminating it would put ST fully 32% below its 2008 revenue projection. Worse yet, to meet the 90 day deadline the agency might have to dedicate non-MVET funds to retiring the bonds, arresting progress on a wide array of projects.
- Limits toll revenue to highway purposes on the tolled highway, ruling out use of any tolling revenue to fund transit. Apparently, Eyman favors Communist-style scarcity of valuable road space on I-90, rather than rational pricing consistent with supply and demand.
- The measure also looks out for dangerous drivers by weakening fines associated with red-light cameras.
This is usually the space where people launch all sorts of personal attacks on Tim Eyman. It’s abundantly clear that this initiative, like his other creations, is a horror show for people who care at all about effective delivery of government services.
However, one can find anti-tax fanatics in every state in the Union, although ours are well-organized. In the right election, the voters of Washington are not at all alone in going along with these schemes that cut revenue without having to specify the matching spending cuts. What’s different here are the institutions: a State Constitution that enshrines the right of low-information voters to overrule legislators on complicated policy decisions and budgets.
The single best good-governance reform possible in Washington State is to amend this power away, placing us on par with such undemocratic, authoritarian structures as the U.S. Constitution, and 26 states including Texas, Iowa, New York, and Maryland. Unfortunately, at the moment such a move would be extremely unpopular, even among progressives who routinely have their core priorities gutted in this process.