By on July 20, 2011

Voters in Washington state will decide in November whether to slow down the state’s push toward tolling. Initiative 1125 prohibits lawmakers from diverting toll road revenue and other levies on motorists toward non-transportation purposes. It also forces politicians to vote directly on any toll hikes.

“If there’s going to be tolls, there has to be accountability and transparency,” initiative co-sponsor Tim Eyman of Voters Want More Choices wrote in an email. “It’s simply not too much to ask for taxpayers who are being forced to pay twice for their roadway infrastructure (the highest gas tax in the nation and tolls) that the legislature be required to follow the law and abide by the Constitution.”

The 18th Amendment to the state Constitution requires all gas tax and other highway fees to be “used exclusively for highway purposes.” State officials are currently planning to divert the revenue from tolling Interstate 90 to underwrite the Highway 520 bridge project.

“When tolls lose their connection to the project they’re paying for, they stop being tolls and they become just another tax,” Eyman said.

Voters have already endorsed limitations on the use of toll revenue. Last year, 64 percent approved Initiative 1053, which required elected legislators to take a recorded vote before raising taxes and fees. The state legislature, however, decided to undermine the vote by punting responsibility for the hikes to an unelected transportation commission.

“Special interest groups and politicians don’t want an open debate on this,” Eyman explained. “They prefer cutting backroom deals and keeping the voters in the dark about what they’re doing. With I-1125, the public will learn about what’s going on and get the chance to weigh in in a meaningful way.”

Under the proposal, no revenue in the motor vehicle fund or toll fund could be used for non-transportation purposes. Road lanes paid for with tolls or gas taxes could not be taken away from motorists and used for bicycle lanes or mass transit. Tolls on a given road may only fund improvements to that road, and the tolls must end once the cost of construction is paid in full.

A total of 327,043 voters signed a petition turned in earlier this month to qualify the measure for the ballot. The text of I-1125 is available in a PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Initiative Measure Number 1125 (Washington State Voters, 1/20/2011)


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6 Comments on “Washington: Initiative Measure Targets Toll Roads...”

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Eyman’s initiatives tend to be so sloppily written that those that gain passage are usually thrown out by the courts.

    This guy makes money running initiatives for special interests with deep pockets. He’s a populist only in the sense that he cleverly plays upon the fears of low-information voters. Nevertheless, his initiatives haven’t been doing as well lately, partly because people saw that he was profiting from the enterprise. On a personal level the guy is a real jerk.

    Having legislators approve tolls is a ploy designed to gum up the works. It’s unnecessary. BTW, a key reason fees and taxes on individual items like gas are so high in Washington is because we don’t have a state income tax. You could argue pretty persuasively that this is a more market-based approach to paying for roads, because those who actually use them most pay more.

    People like Eyman want to have it both ways — they want top-notch government services that benefit them but they don’t want to pay for them.

  • avatar

    In a way, Eyman is correct, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that his bills are as Dr Lemming says about his initiatives, so sloppily written and such that they get thrown out in the end. Also, we have had in recent years several bills that were for the same things, but for slightly different reasons and processes and that only serves to confuse voters, such as the initiative to make liquor sales private and thus get rid of the state run liquor stores, I don’t think either initiative (and there were two, very similar deals to be voted on) didn’t pass.

    That said, one fact in this article that is wrong and that is the 1-90 bridge is NOT being tolled, that was something our Governor floated to help pay for the 520 bridge (I have no problem with that if it means the tolls get eliminated sooner) but in the end, as far as I know, only the 520 bridge is being tolled. The reason being is that both bridges are the ONLY efficient way to get across the lake from Seattle to the Eastside without having to go around this huge body of water, which would about double the travel times.

    Add to that, the 405 freeway can get VERY congested through Kent along its S curves and of course, through Bellevue itself so that only serves to make the commute even worse and right now, both bridges are prone to traffic snarls – especially coming home but the 520 bridge being only 2 lanes with no shoulder gets clogged way more than the much wider I-90 bridge.

    I don’t trust Eyman AT ALL as he’s ALWAYS trying to come up with some initiative and yes, he DOES try to have it both ways when that’s simply not possible, nor realistic.

  • avatar

    The aim is noble, to keep the crooked bureaucrats from diverting the highway taxes to mass transport, which is the usual outcome (for instance, 37% of the federal “Highway Trust Fund” is “flexed” towards mass transport, not highways).

    Nonethless, in the end, the effort is futile.

    Politicians end up spending on highways only the funds exclusively derived from highways, i.e., taking away any other funds formerly destined to road and transportation improvement, so in the end, the tolls which were in years past announced as “extra highway money” become “the only highway money”, and the former funds are taken from roads and destined to special interests such as transit unions, etc.

    Money is fungible.

    • 0 avatar

      Why is that bad? If it is cheaper to solve congestion by public transport than to add another lane than why wouldn’t you use the money to spend on public transport.

      ps. Why is it only earmarked for highways and not for roads?

  • avatar

    not to burst anyone’s bubble (or crack their soap box), but Washington does not have the country’s highest state gasoline tax.

    Let’s keep everyone honest. I am so sick of people not naming sources and misquoting “facts.” If you are going to make a claim like this, take the 12 seconds i just took to make sure your are accurate.

    EDIT: i realize that the misrepresentation of fact I am commenting on is from the original source (Eyman or whatever his name is) material, but my point goes to the Internet as a whole, while realizing that this wish is not really possible. A lot of damage gets done in courts of public policy, public opinion and private conversation that is the result of either laziness or dishonesty and it drives me crazy.

    Thank you.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    Tim Eyman is the Grover Norquist of Washington State.

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