Washington state voters have approved a measure cutting car tabs to $30, a move that will cut billions of dollars from transportation budgets and leave governments scrambling for a way to pay for road paving, light rail and other projects. (See the latest vote numbers here.)
Here's a Q&A to answer some of the most asked questions.
What are the next steps? How did the King County Executive respond?
King County Executive Dow Constantine asked the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office to prepare a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of I-976.
"The passage of I-976 underscores the ongoing need for comprehensive state tax reform, but for in the short term we must clean up another mess that Tim Eyman has created for our state, our region, and our economy," Constantine said. "There will be many discussions in the weeks and months ahead to determine how to overcome the loss of safety and mobility caused by this irresponsible initiative, but the impact of I-976 to transportation is – in a word – devastating."
What is the response on Wednesday from the Sound Transit Board?
They're not talking publicly. "The issue is that discussion by the Sound Transit Board is required to start addressing our next steps and people's questions," spokesman Geoff Patrick said in response to an interview request. "Anything we could say at this time would immediately get into speculative territory. For that reason, we're declining to do anything that would get ahead of the Board's review of the matter starting on Nov. 21."
What will be cut because of the expected funding deficit?
The specifics are yet to be determined, but the King County Executive's Office said the state would lose approximately $1.9 billion in revenues over the next six years (2020-2025). That includes $1.5 billion from the Multimodal Account, nearly half of which is programed for transit across the state, according to the state Office of Financial Management.
Didn't Washington voters already approve a $30 car tab initiative?
Yes. In 1999, Eyman's Initiative 695 sought to cap state motor vehicle excise taxes – car tabs – at $30 annually. That was passed by voters, but then thrown out by the courts. However, the $30 limit was later enacted by the Legislature anyway.
Wasn't there another $30 car tab initiative in 2002?
Yes. Eyman wrote Initiative 776 that extended the $30 limit to local motor vehicle excise taxes. That initiative also sought to repeal previous motor vehicle excise taxes levies that was about 20 percent of Sound Transit's budget. The state Supreme Court upheld I-776, but ruled the measure could not constitutionally apply to previously enacted motor vehicle excise taxes. Those remained. (The information in this question and the previous one comes from a Historylink.org essay by Walt Crowley and Kate Kershner. Read that full essay here.)
What cuts are expected in King County?
If the state Legislature decided to make across-the-board reductions in the Multimodal Account due to I-976's passage, it could result in over $100 million in cuts to Metro services between 2020 and 2025, according to the King County Executive's office. He said the cuts could include:
• $22.8 million in cuts to the Regional Mobility Grant Program awards for nine Metro projects, including RapidRide expansion, speed and reliability projects, access to transit, transit integration, and reduction in service on the Route 101 in Renton.
• Burien, Kent, Tukwila and Seattle would see cuts of $29.2 million in grants for RapidRide investments, access to transit and speed and reliability improvements.
• $12.2 million in cuts to the Access paratransit program.
• Other cuts to programs that provide bus passes to high school students, and incentives to small businesses and nonprofits to provide ORCA Passes to employees would also be included.
Who supports I-976?
The sponsors are Eyman, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and Jack Fagan. It's also supported by the Washington State Republican Party.
Who is against I-976?
Those against Eyman's initiative included Gov. Jay Inslee, and the mayors of Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Mukilteo, Mountlake Terrace, Vancouver, Lynnwood, Kirkland and Tacoma. The King County and Snohomish County executives also are against it. See the complete list here.
Gov. Jay Inslee released this statement on the results of I-976:
"It is clear that the majority of voters objected to current car tab levels. It is also clear that this vote means there will be adverse impacts on our state transportation system.
"I believe Washingtonians recognize the need to support a safe and reliable transportation system which includes buses, light rail, and ferries and is essential to support our robust economy, ease congestion and fight climate change.
"Accordingly, in response to the will of the people, I am taking immediate action. I have directed the Washington State Department of Transportation to postpone projects not yet underway. I have also asked other state agencies that receive transportation funding, including the Washington State Patrol and Department of Licensing, to defer non-essential spending as we review impacts.
"I will work with legislators, agency leadership and stakeholders on how best to respond to the impacts of this initiative.
"I remain committed to finding solutions to meet Washington's growing and urgent transportation needs."
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