By on December 22, 2010

Washington state’s attorney general confirmed Monday that the legislature may no longer pass authority to raise transportation tolls and fees to an unelected commission. In November, 64 percent of voters approved Initiative 1053 which stated that taxes must be approved by the vote of a majority in the state House and Senate.

The voter-approved measure is now being used to block the state Transportation Commission from approving an increase in fares for the Washington state ferries. The legislature turned to the commission to make the unpopular move of hiking road and bridge tolls as well as the charges for use of the ferry. According to the attorney general’s office, the voting public rejected this approach.

“The initiative accordingly rendered legislative approval granted before the enactment of I-1053 insufficient to authorize the increase or imposition of a fee,” Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey T. Even wrote. “In a manner of speaking, I-1053 hit the ‘reset’ button on legislative approval of the imposition or increase of fees, limiting such actions to those approved anew by the legislature after the effective date of the measure.”

State Senator Pam Roach (R-Auburn) had asked for the ruling to clarify that the initiative had the full force of law on the questions of tolls and ferry hikes.

“Years ago, legislators figured they could avoid the potential wrath of voters if they could just find a way to blame someone else,” Roach wrote in an email. “And they did. The legislature voted to give away its authority, and with it their responsibility and accountability, to the Transportation Commission, which has been working outside of the ‘accountability zone’ for decades. It is wrong to have such a powerful body of unelected individuals making such impactful decisions.”

Initiative guru Tim Eyman, wrote the referendum to block the legislature from undoing the effects of I-1053 and similar measures to limit the ways in which the legislature could increase taxes.

“We’re obviously pleased that the voters will get the policies they voted for,” initiative sponsor Tim Eyman wrote in an email. “We firmly believe that bills that increase ferry fares or impose tolls must be accompanied by reforms and taxpayer protections — they don’t deserve a blank check.”

State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) has vowed to overturn the initiative, a move both Eyman and Roach believe to be an uphill battle.

A copy of the informal ruling is available in a 1mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Can the Transportation Commission raise taxes, fees or tolls (Office of the Attorney General, 12/20/2010)


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11 Comments on “Washington: Voter Initiative Thwarts Transportation Tax Hikes...”

  • avatar

    Ah yes, the public wants services, but does not want to pay for them.
    Politicians want to give services to the voting public, but again, they do not want to have to pay for them.
    And we wonder why we run huge deficits year after year in the US?

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    One piece of political context is that the AG is running for governor in 2012 and is currying favor with the Tea Party folks, such as by taking “unorthodox” (re: hard right) legal stances. Meanwhile, Eyman is so sloppy that his initiatives tend to get overturned by the courts. So let’s see if the courts weigh in on this one.
    The simple reality is that the Legislature would get tied up in knots if it had to deliberate over every proposed fee change.  So I don’t seeing the status quo prevailing unless it amounts to something close to a rubber stamp for almost all proposed fees.

    • 0 avatar

      The simple reality is that the Legislature would get tied up in knots if it had to deliberate over every proposed fee change.

      That’s called “producing an annual budget”, and it’s one of the core responsibilities of our elected representative bodies. AKA “doing their jobs”.

  • avatar

    I voted for this initiative so we could have some transparency and accountability in Olympia.

    I also voted for several other initiatives that would have raised revenues … those all failed. Now our elected officials will have to make some hard choices to resolve a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. We’re about to let voters find out what they voted against when the cost of every government service spikes, class sizes are increased, college tuition soars, police and firefighter ranks are thinned.

    I’m a Washingtonian, and I approve this message.

  • avatar

    Voters didn’t shoot down the fare hikes, they shot down the politicians for trying to shirk responsibility.

    good show voters of WA, good show.

  • avatar

    Some people seem to think that all government spending is good. For far too long “it’s for the children” and threats of cutbacks in police and fire have been used to threaten or intimidate voters to get tax hikes. Spending is unsustainable, government salaries and benefits have skyrocketed past private sector pay and there is no way that the current way can continue.

    I don’t think that I will get a lot of arguement that there are too many police and that they have become more militarized because they have too much money to spend. My school didtrict is choking on tax money, they can’t spend it fast enough on useless junk to spend it all. Kids aren’t better educated but they have first class facilities and stuff and lots of self esteem. As for college spending, well there are too many in college now graduating with useless degrees.

    No where in this country is government underfunded. Cut pay, benefits and services, give taxpayers some relief.

    • 0 avatar

      > Some people seem to think that all government spending is good.
      Nice straw man. Even the most bleeding heart liberal (ie me) doesn’t think that, like even the most inbread Tea Partier doesn’t think all gubermint spending is bad.
      The militarization of the police falls under the whole Homeland Security deal, which falls more under the flag waving right wing God Bless America get them terrorists department than the pot smoking leftist hippie bandwagon.  I suspect a lot of the people who feel they’re Taxed Enough Already also Support The Troops. Except lookit that, all those active troops out there serving God and America sure do get expensive. Not to mention all those mercs. Better extend those tax cuts for the wealthy so we can pay for it all. I’ve been assured that’s the way it works.
      I’m glad your school district is choking on money, but that’s local money. You must live in an affluent neighborhood where the property taxes cover all your schools expenses and more. That has jack to do with most school districts and nothing to do with national politics.
      Whose pay do we cut? Not yours surely. And which benefits and services do we cut? I’m guessing the ones which don’t affect you?

  • avatar

    There is a reason they call it “The Soviet Socialist Republic of Washington”.  Atty General McKenna is not pandering to the Tea Party hard right, he has always been a solid conservative.   There is just so few of us here in Washington that its a miracle when one gets elected.

  • avatar

    Does anyone on here remember the phrase on U.S.-manufactured goods up to about 1972 or so: “Prices slightly higher in the west and south?”

    That was because most of the stuff we bought was built in what became known as the “Rust belt”, the northeast U.S! You actually had to pay more the farther away you lived because they had to ship it farther, and, guess what? it COST MORE to ship it and those who lived nearer to where goods were made weren’t penalized in order to subsidize those who didn’t. Novel thought, that!

    Food for thought, eh?

  • avatar

    There have been a couple of well publicized  problems and scams with the Ferry system here in WA involving employees pocketing the fares.
    Several programs on the TV and articles in the local newspaper.
    Management continues to be lacking.
    However not being able to adjust fares will reduce service and the first two big political complainers were republicans. They are the type of people than tend to live out in the boonies.
    For all the whining from the right, the blue part of  the state subsidizes a lot of those rugged individualists who live in the red part of the state.
    I say let them have what they want, how about I not pay for your ferries, your roads, your airports , your law enforcement, your libraries and your schools?
    And don’t complain it’s a libertarian paradise after all.

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