Guest Opinion: I-976 not the scary monster opponents portray

  • Wednesday, October 23, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

Did you notice Halloween arrived early this year, in the guise of a fear-mongering, disingenuous mailer decrying the horrors of “devastating cuts” and “brutal impacts” that await us by voting for villainous $30 cars tabs?

Initiative 976 will bring about none of that. What it will do is take a portion of vehicle registration fee dollars away from politicians and bureaucracies. That money will stay in our budgets, from where we can decide what best to do with it.

The anti-976 cabal would have you believe our streets, highways and freeways will imminently cave in, bridges collapse, and ferries founder if on Nov. 5 voters approve this initiative. It’s all sheer, unhinged nonsense.

Of the $4.2 billion that I-976 opponents claim will be lost over the next six years, the Washington Policy Center estimates a measly 8 percent will come from funds exclusively set aside for roads and bridges.

As for the state’s ferry system, its funding would see a minimal loss of slightly more than one-tenth of a percent, according to the WPC.

If state legislators can’t or won’t find 8.1 percent in fraud, waste and abuse within the state Department of Transportation’s budget to offset I-976’s impact, then they’re not looking hard enough or they’re not smart enough.

The remedy if they won’t? Or if they act with vindictiveness by slashing essential highway services? We kick them out of office next November and vote in people who bring better ideas and innovation to Olympia in contrast to the stale, decades-old Big Government political ideology at play now.

Nearly half of I-976’s tax cut would impact only tri-county Sound Transit. Voters in Pierce, Snohomish and King counties have been itching to deliver a right cross to the jaw of corrupt, unaccountable Sound Transit for deceiving them about the cost of license tabs under the ST3 ballot proposal, which narrowly passed in 2016.

Besides bloated Sound Transit, which just spent $318 million on “education,” I-976’s greatest impact would be to state funding for public transportation, biking and walking programs, passenger rail, and other non-essential, non-highway programs. In short, state spending that can be drastically cut and we’d never know the difference.

Meanwhile, local bureaucrats and politicians are in full hand-wringing mode. Last week, the Clallam Transit board unanimously voted to oppose I-976, fearing the loss of $3.5 million in state funding for 2020, mostly for capital projects.

First, public transportation ought to pay for itself at the fare box, or it’s just another form of welfare and wealth transference. But if Clallam Transit finds itself facing a potential shortfall if I-976 passes and chooses not to raise fares, then come to Clallam County voters with a reasonable, persuasive request for funding.

Perhaps we’ll decide to part with some of our hard-earned cash to support bus service for the truly needy, the handicapped and elderly poor.

But approaching voters would be a riskier proposition for entities such as Clallam Transit. It’s more comfortable to cozy up to sympathetic state legislators, play “Mother May I” for a place at the public trough in Olympia, and come back home with goodies than it is to ask local taxpayers to chip in. Because local voters might say no.

But that’s the corner our local and state public servants have unwittingly backed that’s the corner our local and state public servants have unwittingly backed themselves into. Many Washingtonians feel over-taxed – at the cash register, at the gas pump, for vehicles, homes, phones and internet, and in the fares and fees for almost every other conceivable item and service.

Taxes and fees continue to increase as a percentage of our incomes, the legislature passes tax increases in the dead of night without public comment or oversight, there’s talk of a state income tax, and voter-approved initiatives to control state spending are overturned. We’ve had enough. And now there appears an opportunity to send a message via I-976.

Should any significant negative outcomes arise from $30 car tabs, the blame should not be placed on I-976’s proponents nor on voters, but ultimately on a profligate, tone-deaf Washington state legislature and local taxing districts – the real villains that have brought us to this juncture.

Paul Schmidt is a 1980 graduate of Sequim High School and former journalist. He currently works in the railroad industry.

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