Proposition 1: Free-for-all over roads, transit
Opponents of the multibillion-dollar roads and transit measure on next month's ballot were once so underfunded and disorganized that few...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Proposition 1Proposition 1 would increase car-tab and sales taxes to improve highways and extend light rail in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Backers say the plan would cost about $18 billion in 2006 dollars. Adding inflation, financing, operations, overhead and cash reserves, the entire package could cost around $38 billion by 2027 and a total of $47 billion by 2057.
What it would do
Highways and roads: The plan would spend about $7 billion, in 2006 dollars, on more than two dozen highway and local road projects, including widening Interstate 405 and improving Mercer Street in Seattle. Almost $1 billion would go toward replacing the Highway 520 floating bridge.
Sound Transit: Another $10.8 billion would extend Sound Transit light rail east to Redmond's Overlake area, south to Tacoma and north to 164th Street Southwest in Snohomish County, and enhance commuter-rail and regional bus service.
The cost in new taxes
Sales taxes: The tax would increase one penny per $10 purchase to pay for highway projects and a nickel per $10 purchase to pay for light rail — a total of about $150 a year per household, on average.
Car tabs: A new tax would add $80 per $10,000 of vehicle value.
Who pays: Both taxes would be paid by most households in urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
Opponents of the multibillion-dollar roads and transit measure on next month's ballot were once so underfunded and disorganized that few people took them seriously.
As the campaign enters its final weeks, opposition to the ballot measure — the largest proposed tax package in state history — has broadened and packs more punch.
Several elected leaders, including King County Executive Ron Sims, have announced they would vote no on the measure. And an opposition group has raised enough money to run television ads, forcing the "yes" campaign to respond to their arguments.
Some organizations are so uncertain about the ballot measure that they're officially neutral, including the Kirkland, Redmond and Shoreline city councils and 43rd District Democrats, in one of the state's most liberal districts.
"There's been a change of heart," Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives said about the Redmond City Council. "Before I went on vacation in August, my council was hot to trot in supporting it. Now there's no position."
Proposition 1 backers had hoped to avoid a major political tussle. They spent five years crafting a fragile political compromise designed to gain as much political and public support as possible.
The plan includes billions of dollars for highway improvement from Pierce County to Everett and even more money to build 50 miles of light rail to Snohomish County, the Eastside and Tacoma.
Higher car-tab and sales taxes would raise $38 billion over the next 20 years to cover the cost. The total cost is expected to reach $47 billion in 50 years.
A long list of business, labor and environmental groups — including Boeing, Microsoft and the Washington State Labor Council — endorses the measure. Most political leaders, including a majority of the Seattle City Council, support it as well.
And the "yes" campaign has raised about $3.1 million — roughly 10 times the amount collected by opponents. Aaron Toso, a spokesman for yesonroadsandtransit.org, noted that with ballots mailed out last week, the campaign is ramping up its efforts, including buying more radio and television air time.
Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who is Sound Transit's chairman, dismisses the opposition, saying that "there are a few people on the wrong side of every issue."
Yet it's clear the critics are frustrating some leaders who helped put the measure on the ballot.
In a recent interview, King County Councilmember Julia Patterson lashed out, complaining that opponents are getting far too much attention.
"The fringe, the far right in Kemper [Freeman] and the far left in the Sierra Club, have their bogus and unsubstantiated claims about this package ... greeted with the same credibility as the proponents," Patterson said. "It feels almost like a cartoon."
While the plan's breadth did bring together a large and diverse coalition of supporters, it created a weakness as well.
"It's a huge package and there are lots of things to poke at, and that's what's happening," said state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
Supporters find themselves defending the measure against an unlikely collection of opponents, some of whom have sharply different agendas.
The Sierra Club is attacking the roads portion, arguing that expanding highways will lead to more traffic and more greenhouse-gas emissions linked to global warming.
Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, whose companies have contributed $200,000 to the "vote no" campaign, supports more freeway lanes and opposes light rail.
Ives, for her part, complains that Proposition 1 doesn't provide enough money to replace the Highway 520 floating bridge. State transportation planners are considering tolls to help raise the rest of the money.
She also says more money needs to be spent to connect car-pool lanes to onramps and offramps so cars don't have to weave through traffic as they enter and exit the freeways.
Seattle City Council member Nick Licata said he's opposed because the measure would increase the sales tax to pay for projects.
"It's a regressive tax that could go on forever," he said, adding that the plan lacks enough oversight.
"If you don't have strong auditing and oversight controls, no matter how good a project may be, inevitably it's going to go south. It's going to waste dollars," he said.
Sims wrote a guest opinion for The Seattle Times attacking the proposal on multiple fronts.
"This plan doesn't solve traffic congestion in the short term, nor does it provide enough long-term relief to justify the financial and environmental costs. Tragically, this plan continues the national policy of ignoring our impacts upon global warming," he wrote. Sims also headlined an opposition rally on Saturday.
Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck said he's undecided. But he also said in an e-mail that "regional transportation projects should be funded through user fees ... such as the gas tax and tolls, not property and a highly regressive sales tax."
He added that "voters should have been allowed to choose between competing priorities of roads and transit."
Although most political leaders in the central Puget Sound region have said they back the measure, the support often seems lukewarm.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, did not return phone calls asking if he supported Proposition 1, but he sent an e-mail stating: "The Legislature gave local governments the authority to place a measure before voters for additional investments to improve the transportation system in the region. I hope their efforts are successful."
Patterson, vice-chairwoman of the Regional Transportation Investment District executive board, which put together the plan, has no reservations. She said a lot of work went into getting Proposition 1 on the ballot.
"I've been involved for five years trying to craft this thing. There's been so much time and care and conversation and patience and collaboration that's gone into the selection of these projects," she said. "The way we're investing this money will make the biggest difference. We've done the very best that we believe can be done."
Ladenburg said voters should ignore the dissent.
"You can vote yes and do something about building transit and building roads, or you can go with the opponents who have no plan whatsoever," he said.
"We've done this for years in this region: Argue, argue, argue until we're blue in the face and nothing gets done. If you want more of nothing, vote no. If you want to finally do something, this is it."
Ladenburg said he's confident most voters will agree.
Still, a little uncertainty can go a long way when it comes to defeating tax increases.
"When people are confused about initiatives, they tend to vote no," said Matt Barreto, an assistant political science professor and polling expert at the University of Washington.
"The more confusion and misunderstandings and mixed endorsements, the less confident voters are that they know what they're voting for," he said.
Back in 2002, a similar situation developed with Referendum 51, a statewide transportation package put on the ballot by the state Legislature. It would have increased the gas tax by 9 cents a gallon to pay for billions of dollars in highway projects.
Like today, all the major forces were aligned in support, including the governor, Boeing, Microsoft and labor. Their campaign raised millions. The opposition — led by some environmental groups — was much smaller by comparison.
Still, Referendum 51 was defeated by about 62 to 38 percent of voters, including in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
State political leaders say they don't know what they'll do if Proposition 1 fails on Nov. 6.
For many lawmakers, that's part of their argument for supporting the measure.
Gov. Christine Gregoire told reporters recently: "It's not a perfect package. It's not necessarily one I would have done ... but the fact is it's the only game in town and there is too much at stake."
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
NEW - 07:13 AM
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is writing memoir
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
(The Associated Press) Fuel rules get support A Consumer Federation of America survey conducted in April found that a large majority of Americans R...
Post a comment