Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The initiative essentially makes it more difficult and expensive to impose tolls, which would put the burden of funding major projects on all taxpayers.
Tim Eyman, the initiative king who generally focuses his citizen lawmaking on curbing taxes and slowing the growth of government, is way off target with his latest proposal.
Initiative 1125, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, isn't really about saving money, making government smaller or even more accountable. I-1125 is all about messing up the state's plans for building bridges and other necessary transportation projects.
I-1125 mostly deals with tolls collected to pay for road projects. I-1125, as described in the state Election Guide, would require that toll amounts be set by the Legislature by majority vote, rather than by the Transportation Commission, and would make the setting of toll amounts subject to statutes that require preparation of various reports and analyses relating to costs. It would require that tolls be "uniform and consistent" and would not allow variable pricing of tolls.
This essentially would make the setting of tolls a political decision that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the state to get affordable financing for projects such as building another bridge across Lake Washington from Bellevue to Seattle.
Putting politics into play makes for risky loans. The state Treasurer's office says this plan could lose billions in toll-bond funding for major projects.
Blocking variable tolls is also a mistake. Allowing the state to set different tolls for different times of the day or different times of the week serves two important functions.
One, it allows more money to be collected to pay off the road project sooner. If the tolls are higher during the busy morning and evening commute times -- rush hour -- then more money will be collected.
But the higher toll will cause some people to travel over that road at different times, thus easing -- albeit slightly -- traffic congestion.
This initiative could be big trouble for taxpayers, particularly those of us who live east of the Cascades.
If tolls -- user fees -- are effectively neutered as a way to fund new roads and bridges, then it will fall to taxpayers statewide to pick up the tab. Given the huge need for road construction in the Seattle area, funding these projects will have to be done through general tax increases.
All of this does not mean we believe tolls should be used for all road projects. To the contrary, we see charging a toll as something reserved for huge projects that need incredible infusions of cash and that are of particular benefit to that area -- projects such as a bridge over Lake Washington or replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.
I-1125 would, in the end, make the difficult task of improving the state's infrastructure even harder. We recommend voters reject this proposal.