Reject I-976. Safety is more important than saving on car tab fees | Editorial

Don’t be fooled by the false promise of Initiative 976.

If approved, the measure would set vehicle registration fees at $30, which sounds great if you don’t bother to think beyond your own bank account.

But if you care about safe roads and bridges, a strong Washington State Patrol, public transportation services for the elderly and disabled, and a reliable way to get goods from Eastern Washington to shipping ports in Western Washington, then you should oppose I-976.

This ill-conceived initiative would decimate the state transportation budget if it passes — nearly a $4 billion loss over the next 10 years — and we strongly recommend a “No” vote on the ballot.

Not only does it cut money at the state level, but I-976 takes away the ability for local officials to also set car tab fees.

In the Tri-City region, particularly in Richland and Prosser, road budgets would be drastically reduced if I-976 were to go into effect.

Tim Eyman, the anti-tax activist sponsoring I-976, went down this same path in 1999 with a similar $30 car tab crusade. That measure was approved by voters, but was later struck down by the courts.

Now, he is back at it. Eyman has made a career out of sponsoring state initiatives, and he is a master at playing on people’s emotions.

Who doesn’t want lower taxes? Who doesn’t want to believe state lawmakers can find the money elsewhere?

His argument is that taxpayers are “getting ripped off” and that taxing a $10,000 vehicle like it is a $23,000 vehicle is fraud (but he thinks charging all vehicles a flat $30 is fair?).

He calls the car tab fees a “dishonest” vehicle tax, and notes that the state has had record revenues, and is sitting on a $3.5 billion tax surplus.

We don’t like the recent spending habits of the Legislature, either. But I-976 cuts too deep in one critical budget category —transportation — and it isn’t safe.

Even the Mainstream Republicans of Washington have come out against the initiative, calling it “a misdirected attack on locally approved and critically needed funds to address traffic congestion and safety around Washington state.”

Mike Vaska, chairman of the Mainstream Republicans, said in a statement, “It is pretty obvious that we need to improve our transportation system to address gridlock and unsafe roads and bridges,” and that the state should not be allowed to override the decisions made by local communities.

The Richland City Council decided two years ago to create a transportation benefit district (TBD) and fund it with a $20 car tab fee. The city needed $4 million to complete the Duportail Bridge and cover road maintenance costs.

There are Richland citizens still upset by the fee, but I-976 is not the answer.

Richland Mayor Bob Thompson told The Herald last summer that if I-976 passes, city officials would have to make tough choices, like putting off road repairs, cutting other expenses or raising property taxes.

“At the end of the day, you have to pay for your stuff,” Thompson said. “The question is, whose ox is gored?”

Washington state is booming, and with a surge in population comes congested highways, more wear and tear on roads and the need to keep up with our transportation infrastructure.

I-976 sounds like a way to save some money and stick it to the government. But if it passes, voters eventually will find they have stuck it to themselves.

The Tri-City Herald recommends a “No” vote on I-976.