Tim Eyman’s latest initiative would undo local transportation choices

Vehicles sitting in traffic headed eastbound on Marion Street in downtown Seattle, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo by Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Tim Eyman has dropped another cute little mouse on our doorstep. Awww. No question he thinks he’s giving us a gift. The problem: Like many suitors, he isn’t giving us what we want, but what he thinks we should have.

Initiative 976 is Eyman’s newest attempt to “limit annual motor vehicle license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges, repeal and remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and charges; and base vehicle taxes on Kelley Blue Book rather than the dishonest, inaccurate, and artificially inflated manufacturer's suggested retail price (MRSP).”

Except, it’s even worse than that, because it would repeal voter-approved Sound Transit vehicle license fees. He’s seeking a statewide decision to overturn fees already approved by local voters. In addition, the measure would wipe out charges by cities and towns — more than 60 of them, according to The Seattle Times — of $20 to $80 per year for their own transportation needs.

I‑976 is yet another Eyman attempt to shrink government. Another misguided belief that small government is best.

Not all of us agree with that premise. I certainly don’t, and here’s why.

First, the practical. Renewal of my 2006 Scion xB’s license cost $164.75, including the Sound Transit fees. I drove about 10,000 miles last year, so my license cost just under 2 cents a mile. Aside from paying gas taxes, that was my contribution to the repaving of I-5, stabilization of Highway 99 through downtown Seattle, extension of light rail to the University District, every annoying bus or bike lane on every artery in the region, regular clearing of snow and ice on Snoqualmie Pass and all of Eastern Washington, and countless other projects. I contributed 2 cents a mile over a one-year period. I spent more getting eyeglasses at Costco!

Then there’s the philosophical. There are a few million people living in this basin we call Puget Sound. I know a thousand or so of them, 25 well, maybe 10 really well. Somehow, I need to live among the other million-plus with a sense of safety and purpose. There ought to be some kind of contract that spells out how we’re going to share this space, without duking it out each time we disagree about something. Our predecessors across the West tried the gunfight-at-noon model, and it’s embarrassing to think back on the outcomes. Like new roommates, newlyweds or lovers, we need something that details our agreements about expected behaviors, including accountability structures and consequences.

Oh, wait! There’s this thing called the Constitution. There’s a federal version and a state version, and each spells out our vision for living together within the same geographic boundaries. The details, substitutes for ancestral violence, are embodied within laws we agree to live by. Each time we elect city, county, state, or federal officials, we give them the power to take up and resolve issues on our behalf. We vet their values against our own, scrutinize their integrity and character, and send them off to bolster the infrastructure of our local, state, and national relationships. Sometimes they choose options not in my personal best interest, but it turns out to be what they agree is necessary for the other million-plus people they represent. If it isn’t, they’ll be roundly voted out of office the next time around. And sometimes values of the current day turn out to be out of line with our long-term vision of who we have decided to be as a city, region, state, or country, so we need a do-over. That’s why those representatives have to prove their case for re-election over and over.

The fewer and more vague the details of the laws they consider, the more room for misunderstanding, confusion, corruption and deceit: “We will take turns taking out the trash” versus “You will take out the trash on alternate Tuesdays starting Jan. 3 and I will take out the trash on alternate Tuesdays starting Jan. 10.” The first instance leads to, “I thought it was your turn,” or “It was a holiday so I thought we skipped it,” or “You forgot last time, so I thought you’d do it this time.” Oh, yes. This is where relationships break down. Seems simple enough: more detailed, enforceable laws equal better government. Bigger government, with enforced accountability, is better.

It’s hard to see how denying the government the money to do its job will result in better government, although that’s what Eyman and Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen seem to think. After Eyman’s initiative got enough signatures to force the Legislature to act on it or let it go to voters in November, Blethen tweeted,  “Voters get their say about being treated dishonestly by Sound Transit and local officials. This should be a powerful message for transparency and accountability.”

It is quite the irony to have of one of the wealthier people in our region, with access to resources beyond the imagination of most of us, threatening transportation projects impacting millions of people throughout the state simply as the way to teach one agency a lesson. Next, the wealthy will be demanding we build a wall somewhere.

If I can pay my 2 cents a mile for bike lanes I will never use, or for snowplows in Spokane, surely they can pitch in for projects that don’t benefit them. Believe me, as a West Seattleite, I have plenty to complain about when it comes to transportation, especially SoundTransit. Maybe Messrs. Eyman and Blethen could present the Seattle Department of Transportation, Washington Department of Transportation and SoundTransit with constructive ideas to provide my neighbors some relief, or lobby Mayor Jenny Durkan to stop developers from building any more unsustainable frankencondos. That would be a welcome mouse.

While $30 car tabs sounds like a wonderful relief to our pocketbooks, it comes at a cost to the future. We cannot, with integrity, complain about the transportation options in our region and simultaneously defund the projects meant to correct the problems. We cannot say we want people to have a livable wage in our region, and insist on deleting their salaries from our coffers. So, thanks for thinking of us, Mr. Eyman, but no thanks.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Lola E. Peters

Lola E. Peters

Lola E. Peters is a contributing columnist covering politics, culture and social justice.