As expected, the State Legislature declined to pass Tim Eyman’s $30 flat car tab initiative, so it is headed to the November ballot.

Check out the full list of cuts at the No on I-976 campaign website, as well as Permanent Defense’s campaign flyer. Sound Transit would suffer a revenue loss of about 12%, threatening many of the projects just approved in 2016. Transit agencies across the state would lose an important source of funding. Most notably, this would cripple Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District, which funds an increment of bus service within the city. Finally, Amtrak Cascades draws much of its funding from license fees. I-976 is a setback for all attempts to give people an alternative to sitting in traffic and polluting the air.

Vote for more transit. Vote No on Initiative 976.

The editorial board currently consists of Martin Duke, Frank Chiachiere, and Brent White.

51 Replies to “No on Initiative 976”

  1. Eyman messed up when he drafted the initiative. One of the agency’s lawyers told me that even if it passes the tax rate doesn’t have to be lowered. That’s because ST has no right to get some of the bonds back from their holders. The initiative specifies that must happen before the rates can be reduced, and the contracts don’t allow for it. Joke’s on Timmy!

    1. That’s cool and all but it’s an argument best left for the lawyers and not for a campaign to defeat this initiative. It guts a whole lot of things that a lot of us, both on STB and statewide, think are important. Besides, if this terrible initiative wins and is then thrown out by the court system–even just partially, so that Sound Transit isn’t affected–that will piss off a lot of people and it leaves open bringing back a smaller initiative, now with the message of “stick it to the elites on the courts!”

      Never mind that a “partial” defeat of the initiative in court would still slash the Washington State Ferries, Amtrak Cascades, Seattle’s enormous quantity of purchased bus hours, and county road funding across the state.

      1. You don’t get it — Sound Transit will comply with what the measure requires, and it will not reduce the tax rate.

        If I-976 is approved, the board of ST will simply send out a press release saying “The initiative says we are required to reduce the tax rates, BUT ONLY IF the bond contracts allow us to first get back the bonds secured by the tax. We don’t have that contract right, so we don’t have to reduce the tax.”

        Nobody needs to sue in order for the tax rate to remain “as is” until the bonds are retired by their terms (in 29 years).

      2. I get it a lot. I’m saying that’s not a good look and we should be pushing for the initiative to lose at the ballot box, not rely on Eyman being terrible at drafting terrible initiatives.

        In fact, I will actually be a lot more upset over the other stuff this crappy thing cuts out than I will be over the loss of funding to Sound Transit. Seattle’s purchases of a lot of bus service hours matter much more to me, day-to-day, than long-term ST funding. I want both, but a lot of people–myself included–will be more affected by undercutting existing, local transit and ferry and road funding.

      3. I’m with lakecityrider. Even if your (secondhand) legal advice is correct, other transit agencies would be screwed.

    2. “Even if your (secondhand) legal advice is correct, other transit agencies would be screwed.”

      1) I’m a lawyer — read the initiative, you’ll see where it says that before any rollback the bonds have to be retired IF the contracts allow it. Some of the contracts don’t allow it.

      2) If any agency getting car tab revenues hasn’t yet done what ST did — bond against the revenues of that tax to lock it in — well, any loss of that revenue due to I-976 would be due to their stupidity.

      1. That’ll just lead to calls and potentially action to remove agencies’ rights to issue bonds period. Every agency having to issue bonds just as a hedge against misguided voters destroying their ability to fund themselves is a horrible state of affairs. Not to mention ultimately costing the taxpayer more in the long run due to financing costs and interest.

      2. As far as 2) goes, I would assume that most agencies are simply spending the car tab money as it comes. Sound Transit is the only transit agency with a huge long term capital expenditure that requires bonds. Most transit agencies just pay for service, which is why they are so susceptible to economic downturns. The economy suffers, and Metro has to make cuts. This would be similar.

      3. Even if they do that, this would be disastrous for future projects all over the state.

    3. From what I understand is if the bonds can’t be retired then they will be forced to pay for them with the increased sales tax and homeowners tax. It seems Tim is learning. YES I-976.

  2. Since this is “statewide”, expect it to pass; people in Eastern Washington, who don’t pay it, will gleefully vote yes to “Own the Libs!”. The only hope is that the bond covenants mentioned above might invalidate it.

    1. “Own the libs?” What does that even mean? Just because people are getting overtaxed means they want to “own the libs?”

      You act like Seattle doesn’t run the state already…

      1. Car tabs are already a flat $30 but the Seattle area has chosen to tax themselves more. No one in Eastern WA is paying a dime to Sound Transit but they’ll have a say in removing our ability to do so, why?

        Seattle doesn’t run the state LOL that’s actually a ridiculous thing to say.

      2. @Barman

        Please name one place in the state where you can walk in, pay exactly $30, and walk out with your tabs.

        In elections, if Seattle (Puget Sound) votes for / against something, the chances of it passing / failing are significant. That equates to deciding for the state how it will be run / ruled. It’s not ridiculous.

      3. who’s getting overtaxed? people who own expensive late model cars?

        let me go find my tiny violin.

      4. >In elections, if Seattle (Puget Sound) votes for / against something, the chances of it passing / failing are significant. That equates to deciding for the state how it will be run / ruled. It’s not ridiculous.

        imagine that, the place where more people live has more political clout.

      5. @ Pat #1
        Late model cars? If it was only late model cars. You mean those who have cars.

        @ Pat #2
        So you agree also. I don’t know why Barman thought it was ridiculous. It’s pretty straight forward.

      6. The people who see the biggest deviation between the MVET schedule used for ST3 tabs and the later, amended MVET schedule are people with newer cars.

        You’d think Seattle ought to dominate state politics given that they’re the population center and economic engine of the state, but based on the failure to pass a capital gains tax, carbon tax, and other progressive goodies, it’s clear that they don’t.

      7. Because you originally used “Seattle” before changing it to “Seattle (Puget Sound)” after Barman’s comment. Seattle has about 10% of the state’s population and can’t even get Seattle-specific legislation through the Democratic-controlled legislature. “Puget Sound,” though a nebulous description, has about 2/3 of the state’s population. As we are still living in a democracy, it stands to reason that if a large majority of 2/3 of the state’s population wants something, it’s likely to get it.

        At this point I’d love to see an initiative that all tax dollars collected by the state remain in the county in which they are collected. It’s a stupid idea in practice because it would change the Pend Oreille and Stevens counties of the state into third-world paradises – something forgotten or ignored by the odious Matt Sheas and their “separatist” movement – but the civics discussion might remind people that nearly (if not) all “Puget Sound” counties receive less back in taxes than they contribute and several of the less-populated counties get back over $3 for every $1 they pay in taxes.

      8. GK, the violent hatred if rural Euro-Americans for cities is clear. Just read the LTTE’s anywhere outside Puget Sound’s three core counties.

        I agree that we should promote an initiative that taxes raised in a certain county should be spent in that county.

        The rubes would vote for it in mads to prevent their tax dollars from going to”welfare queens” in Seattle.

      9. You don’t even need to leave the central Puget Sound for that.

        I mean, look at the comments on any article in Crosscut, the Stranger, or the Seattle Times.

  3. Hasn’t Eyman embarrassed himself enough? Can’t anti-tax “libertarians” find another money hungry stooge to do their bidding? On one hand I’m glad he’s putting his name on it but I really wish he’d finally just bugger off.

  4. The initiative is an utter mess and will not survive a legal challenge. You would think that Mr. Eyman and his team would have learned how to draft a proper initiative in this state after all of these years of being in this “initiative business”, but that apparently isn’t the case here. This one clearly violates the one subject rule. Should it pass in November, which, given the failure of the legislature over the last two years to fix the MVET/ST tax issue, has a very good chance of happening, it will eventually be ruled unconstitutional by our WA state courts.

    1. But if it survived then he couldn’t put forward yet another initiative – that’s the business model.

    2. I don’t think he cares whether or not it passes. I think he only cares that he can pay himself to run initiatives.

    1. Indirectly maybe. It would be a hit to North King in general, and the board would have to decide how to split the impacts over which projects. It may decide to delete the small things first: 130th and Graham Stations and the early deliverables to RapidRide C, D, and G (if G is getting money in ST3). It’s hard to see how it could make one large project take the entire hit: Ballard, West Seattle, or DSTT2/SLU; any those would get a quarter of the city mad at ST and say their quarter voted for ST3 and should get equal treatment. To avoid that it might trim all projects equally across the board. Or it could decide to extend the timeline longer, meaning you’d pay for it in other taxes. The latter may be more likely because this is an artificial change to a higher-level tax policy rather than a recession-imposed revenue shortfall as occurred in South King in the 2010s (where the Link extension was truncated from 272nd to 200th).

      1. Less is shall we say “an outlier” on the Normal Distribution” of STB commentors,

  5. Thanks for this fantastic editorial! Excellently written and very timely.

    A few thoughts in response to some of the other comments that have been left…

    We shouldn’t be interested in finding out whether this initiative is unconstitutional or not. (The last Eyman initiative on this subject, incidentally, was challenged under the single subject rule but partially upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court. We can’t assume I-976 is unconstitutional.)

    By defeating I-976 at the ballot, we don’t have to worry about going to court. That’s the objective right now: defeat Eyman on what he considers his signature issue, or cause.

    I-976 is absolutely beatable. There’s no such thing as an unbeatable Eyman initiative. Our team at the Northwest Progressive Institute proved that back in 2013 when we and our friends in the business community convened a bipartisan coalition to take down Tim Eyman’s “initiative on initiatives”, I-517. I remember being told that we were wasting our time since I-517 couldn’t be beaten because Eyman had framed it as giving people more democracy and you can’t beat that.

    Well, I-517 went down in flames with a 61% no vote because of our work. It was not only defeated, but it became Eyman’s biggest ever defeat.

    The moral of the story is don’t let Tim get inside your head. That’s what he wants. I-976 can be beaten and we’re going to defeat it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking like Tom Terrific, who wrote:

    “Since this is ‘statewide’, expect it to pass; people in Eastern Washington, who don’t pay it, will gleefully vote yes to ‘Own the Libs!’. The only hope is that the bond covenants mentioned above might invalidate it.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong mindset!

    You should expect yourself and others who care about transit to get involved in defeating I-976. Don’t be a spectator. Join the effort to educate Washingtonians about the cost and consequences of I-976. Remember, this initiative would repeal funding for roads in dozens of cities east of the mountains. It doesn’t just wipe out transit funding west of the Cascades. We have a story to tell to people in Eastern Washington about how I-976 hurts them. And while we would certainly like to win Eastern Washington,we don’t have to; Puget Sound will actually decide the fate of this measure because it’s where two-thirds of the voters live. Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap counties will be the big battlegrounds. Clark, Island, Whatcom, Skagit, and Spokane will be letter battlegrounds.

    Writing off the voters is a guaranteed recipe for losing. If we take the attitude that “the only hope is that the bond covenants mentioned above might invalidate it,” then that becomes our one play because we’ve forfeited the election to Eyman. Again, that is how Eyman wants you to think.

    Don’t let Eyman fool you; don’t let him get inside your head. Join us in bringing the fight to Eyman at the ballot this summer and autumn. You’ll be glad you did.

    1. You take the 40% west of the mountains who ate transit-haters and add the 80% east of the mountains who hate all taxes and you get passage.

      That’s why it’s “state-wide”.

    2. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but your advocacy for Sound Transit to continue parallel express service between activity centers linked by Link is a waste of money. It would be better to increase frequency on the rail line and better serve all the shorter rides as well.

      The point of a “light metro” (as is Link is in part to shape the urban structure by producing a “string-of-pearls” of dense station walksheds between the end-point activity centers. Those dense areas allow people to live without cars, or at least to reduce to one for long-distance journeys. That is the single most effective way for a given family to reduce their GHG emissions.

      Living with shared walls is the second.

      Everything “voluntary” is chickenfeed.

      I agree that the partner agencies should do so, because they have different constituencies, and are more directed toward the home-work trip.

      1. “I agree that the partner agencies should do so should continue direct express service to Seattle and Bellevue.”

  6. Do the washington state ferries get funding from this? That could he a good talking point for addressing non-transit riding folks, and peopld on kitsap in particular. Without the ferries, it would cripple the economy of parts of the state.

    Another thing to talk about us the damage from the last $30 car tab initiative, and the fact that the legislature will, like last time, certainly overturn it in 2 years when the are constitutionally allowed. So, it’s 2 years of havoc and then taxes go back up anyway.

    1. That argument didn’t work on I-695. After that initiative was found unconstitutional, the legislature decided to implement it anyway. The result was decades of deferred maintenance on our ferry fleet and we’re still paying for it. Fares on the ferry have skyrocketed since then too. If there’s one thing people east of the mountains care less about than trains it’s ferries.

      1. Western Washington is something like 80% of the population.

        The majority of people in Washington live near the Puget sound and would be impacted by reduction in ferry service. Something like 7 counties have ferry service. Additionally, it’s harder to get to many places on the peninsula like port angeles without the ferry, since otherwise you need to detour around the sound.

      2. The legislature around 2000 was really afraid that Eyman’s supporters were going to be a huge wave that would vote them out of office if they didn’t enact it. Since then that feeling has diminished significantly, and while the legislature is still stingy on taxes it’s less so now. This time the legislature declined the initiative rather than enacting it, although it’s not quite the same circumstance because it’s before the vote rather than after.

  7. There are a lot of people in the Puget Sound area outside King County who are upset with the cost of the license tabs who will be ready to vote in favor of 976 not only to try to reduce the cost but to also stick it to Sound Transit who in many people’s mind comes across an arrogant government agency who is going to do what they want to do and don’t care what people think of their plans.

    And many people in Eastern Washington and other parts of the nothing better then to stick it to Seattle. The anti-Seattle attitude in many parts of the state should not be ignored

    1. I think this would hit Spokane hard as well. Maybe there is an anti-Spokane sentiment over there as well.

  8. Federally chartered credit unions are capped at 18% loan and credit card interest. Are the people here who are anti car tab cap also anti the credit union cap?

    And why aren’t the people here who are pro affordable housing also not pro affordable car tabs?

    1. If you support a car tab cap, why don’t you also support an airfare cap for all flights out of Seattle?

  9. We should be equally concerned about what appears to be an uptick in vehicle owners who don’t renew their tabs due to the higher tab fees. Each day I drive lately, and this is almost all recreational, I see several vehicles with expired tabs, most from earlier this year, occasionally one from last year, about one every mile or two. Once outside of the ST taxing district, I rarely see any. This week alone, my untrained eyes have seen one per day with tabs from 2017 and a couple more from 2018. Each of these represent a couple of hundred dollars of revenue that Sound Transit, roads in sixty cities, King County Metro, and Amtrak Cascades is not getting, all because neither the legislature nor law enforcement care whether people pay their share of vehicle fees or not, allowing these folks to freeload. Perhaps the fines need to be boosted like those for HOV lanes, which aren’t even directly costing transportation…

    1. Motorists break the law and avoid renewing registration all over the country. The unregistered, uninsured rate is typically in the 10-20% range, depending on the state.

      The problem is not with the car tab fees, the problem is enforcement. Americans almost uniformly underestimate the true cost of driving, and registration fees are just one part of it. Many people driving on the road today can’t actually afford it. If they had to pay for insurance, registration, and proper maintenance, they wouldn’t be driving.

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