Gas prices in Lewiston, ME, 2008 (source: Mikov on Wikicommons)
Gas prices in Lewiston, ME, 2008 (source: Mikov on Wikicommons)

Thanks to a provision in Initiative 960 (Ballotpedia), passed by Washington State voters in 2007, voters will have four non-binding Advisory Questions on the November 3, 2015 ballot. One of the questions will be on whether the legislature should have passed an 11.9-cent gas tax increase, (The Olympian) the main funding source for the $16.1 billion highway spending spree in SB 5987. This is the same bill that granted $15 billion in ST3 authority.

The first 7 cents of that increase is due to take effect August 1 of this year.

Whether the voters say “Yes” or “No”, the gas tax increases remain.

Environmental groups could push for a symbolic “No” vote on the gas-tax question, to express distaste for the highway package. A “No” vote would not overturn any of the provisions of the relevant bills. However, the legislature is capable of undoing some of the provisions in later sessions, but not defunding programs against which the state or a lower governmental entity has bonded. This is why Sound Transit was able to maintain its car tab funding (Seattle Times $) after Initiative 776 passed.

28 Replies to “Voters to Get Nonbinding Say on 11.9-Cent Gas Tax Increase”

  1. Part of me is inclined to vote a symbolic “no” on this. However, a stronger part won’t be able to stomach giving symbolic support to a Tim Eyman initiative (I-960) which puts items on the ballet with wording that is so blatantly biased.

    When the ballot says “The legislature…for government spending, without a vote of the people. This tax increase should be a) repealed b) maintained”, it is obvious that a large chunk of the voters will automatically choose “a” without even bothering to read what the legislature actually did. Whether it’s a gas tax increase or closing closing a loophole exploitable only by billionaires, it doesn’t make any difference.

    1. I’m unsure about this too. This doesn’t distinguish between (A) raising any tax ever, (B) raising the gas tax ever, (C) raising the gas tax a small amount for maintenance and transit, and (D) raising the gas tax a lot for new exurban freeways. The legislature could easily interpret it as A or B.

      1. None of the gas tax is funding transit, AFAIK. What multimodal funding there is is coming from other fees, mostly through the Department of Licensing.

        The vast majority is new highways or lanes, but I don’t know the exact number.

      2. I agree Mike. I have no problem with raising gas taxes in general or raising gas taxes to pay for road maintenance or even a bit of minor improvement (overpasses, etc.). But I don’t like this package, and if not for the fact that it was tied to ST3 and work that really should be completed (like 520) I would have voted against it (if was a state rep). So voting on this measure is open to a lot of interpretation.

      3. Isn’t the gas tax funding grants to Metro and Community Transit, the Northgate pedestrian bridge, and the bike lane improvements? It’s only rail (“non-highway purposes”) that’s ineligible for the gas tax. But a bike trail along a highway or a bridge across it is part of the highway.

  2. Nonbinding advisory questions? What-EVER.

    I’d vote for it on general principle, because burning gasoline is bad, therefore gas taxes are a good thing.

    1. Nonbinding advisory questions? What-EVER.

      You’ll have to take your argument up with Tim Eyman. He’s the one that put the pile of stuff on the ballot as I-960.

  3. I love how Initative 960 required a 2/3rds supermajority for tax increases, but only required a majority of voters to pass. Our Initative system is broken.

    1. Initiatives, like laws, should never be able to legislate a supermajority requirement larger than the majority they needed to pass.

      That is fundamentally antidemocratic.

  4. I will just love voting no. No to sprawl, more wasteful spending, more nonsense to appease road advocates.

    Now if only the WEA also could get smacked at the same time.

    My contempt of politics is at higher and higher levels.

    1. In order for there to be wasteful spending the source has to be identified. Wasteful spending is a broad term. Spending that may seem wasteful to you might not be to someone else and vice versa.

      Me, I won’t vote on those. I’ll just go on to the next item. As far as I’m concerned the money spent on those measures is wasteful spending.

      1. Wasteful spending = more road lanes when we don’t maintain the ones we already have.

        Wasteful spending = more money for greedy special interest lobbyists to buy legislators.

        Good enough?

  5. So what you’re saying is this has just about as much meaning as the state setting up an online poll for the taxes.

    Why don’t we do that instead? It would probably have been cheaper than printing all this pointless crap on the ballot. Meaningless votes are meaningless.

    1. Because the initiative was intended to put the TAX INCREASE in the voters’ faces, to encourage them to vote against the legislators who voted for it. It helpfully lists every legislators’ vote in the voters’ pamphlet so you check whether YOUR LEGISLATOR VOTED FOR THE TAX INCREASE. That’s what wastes the paper: it takes a whole page to list every legislator and their vote on the TAX INCREASE.

  6. Ordinarily I would be for this being a property tax increase, however, I am in favor of taxing polluting refined fuels like gasoline. This will drive us towards Hydrogen that much faster. I would allocate a specific amount for research and projects of clean fuels (Hydrogen) in the spirit of Governor Inslee asked for (but not a mandate or additional tax).

    1. Personally every study I’ve read suggests hydrogen is not a good solution. It’s expensive.

    2. Hydrogen is only as clean as what it’s made from.

      That four-part series in the last open thread was pretty damning about hydrogen’s viability as a mass energy source for cars.

      1. My responses to the criticisms were equally “damning”.

        However, with this format of argument, you can easily pull points from an older thread without following rebuttals.

        Someday, Internet arguments should be forced to follow the rules of high school debate.

        I’ll build that app. Someday.

      2. I never saw a response from you to that particular link, John. I went back & checked.

        Again, I encourage you to read *all four parts* — I did. Part 2 is particularly important. And the portions of the comment sections which are in English — I can’t read the Dutch either. This is from a blog by a guy who worked on fuel cell cars and *liked* the tech… until he knew it well enough:

        “I’ve been involved in the first international hydrogen racing championship…. they were hydrogen powered, which was extremely cool back then and kind of still is – at least from a technical point of view…. I do have a lot of hands-on knowledge from my time at Formula Zero and I know what goes into building a hydrogen fuel cell powered car. I’ve done a lot of literature research and kept up with the technology.”

        He also writes “Fuel cells are great when they’re sitting still.”

        I’m not saying he’s 100% right, but even half of his criticisms are correct, hydrogen cars are totally economically non-viable.

      3. Your claims would be a lot more believable if you used a full, real name, that could be verified.

        Otherwise, they are simply…undocumented.

      4. John, you just made the archetypal ad hominem argument.

        Technical criticisms have nothing to do with who they come from. Read the technical criticisms. I’ve DOCUMENTED them with links. I know enough math, EE, physics to understand them — do you? If not, go to Wikipedia and learn enough.

        There are a *lot* of people who fell for the hydrogen scam at first, but then actually looked into the details and realized what was going on. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Become one of them.

  7. Fossil fuels need to be much more expensive for environmental reasons. I don’t support highway expansion, but will vote yes on the advisory vote. Voting no will just reinforce the idea that voters will never support an increase in the gas tax, which can have disastrous long-term consequences for the planet.

  8. I’m voting yes. Most of our transit is in the form of buses which use the highways and roads. I remember commuting 405 via SOV because the buses were so infrequent and slow since the HOV lanes were just as bad. I’m currently commuting to downtown seattle via bus on I5 and half of the length of the HOV Lane is a struggle.. There also needs to be HOV lanes between Olympia and tacoma.

  9. If I put myself in the shoes of a legislator (maybe I have a pair that’s barely sufficient) I’m reading “No” votes primarily as an appeal for cheap driving, not for stopping highway expansion. I’m assuming that a lot of “No” votes might represent votes against waste (real or perceived) in highway projects (especially in and around Seattle), but that the number that represent opposition to freeway capacity expansion is essentially zero.

    As for the possibility of a green-and-fiscal-conservative coalition against highway spending, WSDOT’s behavior around Montlake shows just what the highway lobby thinks of that…

    1. (Montlake is an example of how the pitiful state of our current infrastructure works against us. The “greens-and-locals” coalition that’s the natural opponent of interchange expansion is well aware how awful the status quo is for walking, biking, and local transit. Doing nothing feels like as big a disaster as doing what WSDOT wants. But in a generation we’ll see the key result: by giving more local road space to traffic exiting 520 WSDOT will overload local roads and get the “locals” half of the coalition, including anyone that wants the 48 to move, behind expansion of Montlake Boulevard. It’s the same road expansion game as always, except with a bunch of money spent on parks to buy off short-term opponents. It sucks, but as a green, you don’t really want a coalition with the fiscal conservatives because the status quo infrastructure and laws are too broken.)

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