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Dec. 8, 2019

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In Our View: We can’t afford the savings I-976 would bring

The Columbian
Published: October 13, 2019, 6:03am

Initiative 976 on the Nov. 5 statewide ballot imagines a fantasy world in which Washington’s highways, roads and bridges either come without cost or are already and forevermore complete.

Instead, an adequate and efficient transportation system that is the foundation of the state’s economy depends on funding from vehicle fees that would be gutted by I-976. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “no” vote on the measure.

As always, this is merely a recommendation. But the editorial board believes that voters who take a close look at the measure will agree that it would negatively impact our state.

Proposed by anti-tax maven Tim Eyman, I-976 would cap vehicle registration fees at $30 and would not allow local jurisdictions to increase them without voter approval. Like any tax-reduction proposal, the measure has populist appeal; who wouldn’t like lower taxes? But it ignores the reality that a robust economy requires money to maintain and upgrade infrastructure.

Passage of I-976 would short the statewide transportation budget, including highway construction and the Washington State Patrol, by an estimated $4 billion over the next decade. In Vancouver alone, the city would lose more than half the $9 million it spends annually to carry out its street funding strategy; it also would miss out on transportation grants that require local matching funds. Ryan Lopossa, the city’s streets and transportation manager, said: “To put things in perspective, in 2018 we garnered about $8.5 million in grant funding. We’d really lose the ability to chase those grants.”

Similar stories would be told throughout the state. In the Puget Sound region, passage of the measure would halt voter-approved mass transit in mid-construction; in Eastern Washington it would delay highway projects. For all Washington residents, it would throw a roadblock in front of an economy that depends on the efficient movement of goods, supplies and people.

Because of the Interstate 5 Bridge, Clark County residents understand the frustration and the economic drag that comes with inadequate infrastructure. It would be irresponsible to wish that upon our fellow Washingtonians on a grand scale.

As mentioned, the appeal of I-976 is understandable; higher-than-average vehicle fees are a constant point of consternation. But, in reality, they are part of the price we pay for living in a state that does not have an income tax or a capital gains tax.

Overall, according to WalletHub.com, Washington ranks 32nd among the states in terms of tax burden — the proportion of personal income that goes toward state and local taxes. Other analyses have come up with similar results, placing Washington’s tax burden near the average despite our high vehicle fees.

The people tasked with growing the economy and developing infrastructure to enhance our quality of life understand this. Locally, I-976 has been formally opposed by the Vancouver City Council, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Identity Clark County, the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, and others. Throughout the state, it is opposed by Amazon, Microsoft, business groups and environmental groups.

Passage of I-976 would put a damper on economic development and would have far-reaching negative impacts. Yes, everybody who owns a vehicle would save a little money; in truth, we can’t afford to save that much.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board strongly recommends that voters reject Initiative 976.

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