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Originally published Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Danny Westneat

Eyman's secret war on light rail

When Tim Eyman went before the Bellevue City Council recently, he handed out a sheet describing what his latest idea, Initiative 1125, would do.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Great column Danny. It's unfortunate that some Bellevue council members are Kemper mou... Read more
quotes Eyman has already been found guilty before pocketing cash given to him for his... Read more
quotes Creasy, Creasy, Creasy - Westneat never claimed that NO ONE was talking about Eyman's... Read more

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When Tim Eyman went before the Bellevue City Council recently, he handed out a sheet describing what his latest idea, Initiative 1125, would do.

It's what was missing from the sheet that got the most attention.

"I've never seen an initiative quite like this, where its intentions are masked from the people who will vote on it," says Grant Degginger, a Bellevue City Council member and former mayor.

"If you're trying to kill light rail, just come out and say so."

It's not just that the words "light rail" weren't in Eyman's handout that day. They also are not in the Voter's Guide statement for the I-1125 campaign. Nor in any of Eyman's campaign news releases. Nor in recent op-eds written by Eyman and the initiative's financier, Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman.

The campaign's website, www.yeson1125.org, contains a long list of statements about provisions in I-1125, as well as sections on topics such as "The American Dream: Assault on the American Automobile." It has some criticism of light rail, but nowhere does it say that a vote for I-1125 is a vote to stop light rail to the Eastside.

"It's sneaky," Degginger says.

Now both Eyman and Freeman, when asked, are not shy about their opposition to light rail. But when it comes to this initiative they mostly talk of tolls. When asked by Degginger how a voter would know this measure kills the Eastside rail line, Eyman turned the question around.

"That's what the debate is for," Eyman said. "Our opponents can bring up anything they want. It must not be popular or they'd be telling everybody at the top of their lungs."

But putting light rail across the Interstate 90 bridge is already voter-approved, by a 57 percent vote in the 2008 election. Brochures from that campaign show a rendering of the bridge with light rail running on it, along with before-and-after drawings of how the traffic lanes would be altered. So it's hard to argue people didn't know what they were voting for. Then, anyway.

This initiative says it would bar the state from allowing any highway lanes built with any gas-tax money to be used for "non-highway purposes." That theoretically could mean any state road, but specifically a plan has been in the works to use the center of the I-90 bridge deck for mass transit since 1976.

Would this measure kill that off? That's the goal. It also seeks to bar light rail on the Highway 520 bridge (assuming tolls are used there.) If I-1125 passes, though, it would almost certainly be challenged in court. But here's one thing that can be said for sure: Eyman's initiative would not repeal any of the light-rail taxes. So if voters in Bellevue and across the Eastside vote for I-1125, they will be rejecting their promised benefit — the light-rail project — but not the taxes they levied on themselves to pay for it.

All thanks to the guy who says he's out to protect taxpayers. And respect the will of the voters.

Degginger tried to get the Bellevue council to go on record opposing I-1125, to call out what a mess this could end up being for Bellevue taxpayers.

Unless defeated in court, it probably would mean the Eastside's rail line would be built elsewhere — backed in part by the Eastside's money. Transit taxes raised in one community are, over time, supposed to be spent there. So Bellevue and Redmond? I guess your future would be buses. Lots and lots of buses. Unfortunately for you, at light-rail prices.

"I talk to constituents every day who don't realize this vote has anything to do with light rail," Degginger says. "It's just not spelled out."

In the end, the Bellevue Council voted 4 to 3 to take no stand on Eyman and Freeman's plan. Too controversial, it decided.

"We're a real profile in courage," Degginger says.

Kind of like a campaign that won't just come out and say what it's really about.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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