Everett Herald takes close look at I-976 car tab initiative; would “siphon off millions of dollars” of transportation funding.

In the Everett Herald, Jerry Cornfield reports on the effects of Initiative 976. Supporters of safe and efficient transportation systems have good reasons to be concerned.

Initiative 976, the latest handiwork of Tim Eyman, seeks to cap car tab fees at $30, erase most of the motor vehicle excise tax collected by Sound Transit, and wipe out fees now imposed by cities through transportation benefit districts.

If approved on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, and if it withstands an almost certain legal challenge, it would siphon off millions of dollars flowing into accounts used each year to buy buses, expand transit service, repave streets, maintain ferries, build roads, fix bridges and run the Washington State Patrol.

As we wrote previously, the state budget office estimates the initiative would reduce transportation funding by more than $4 billion over six years.

Cornfield writes,

This measure takes aim at three major targets.

First, it would cap car tab fees on passenger vehicles at $30, reduce fees for electric vehicle and snowmobiles to the same level, and get rid of a special 0.3 percent sales tax imposed on sales of new vehicles. Those are all controlled by the state.

Second, it goes after Sound Transit. It seeks to eliminate much of its current 1.1 percent motor vehicle excise tax rate (MVET). If passed, only 0.2 percent of an 0.8 percent increase approved by voters in 2016 as part of Sound Transit 3 would remain in effect. ST3 is the source of funds for expanding service to Everett…

Third, the measure would ax vehicle fees levied through transportation benefit districts, a move that would affect Edmonds, Everett, Granite Falls, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. The initiative seeks to erase the authority of those districts — which exist in roughly 60 cities — to levy such fees.

Cornfield writes,

Collectively, the financial impact stands to be more far-reaching than Eyman’s previous car-tab targeting measures which voters embraced in 1999 and 2002.

The campaign to oppose the measure can be expected to provide a lot more information in the coming months.

“The impacts of this misguided initiative touch every corner of the state,” said Sandeep Kaushik, consultant to Keep Washington Rolling, an alliance of diverse political forces that is leading the fight against the measure.

“It cuts state-funded projects, as well as regional and city-level projects – impacting transit service, road maintenance and major highway infrastructure projects. It also defunds projects that were already approved by local voters,” he said…

Context is also important. The measure comes at a time when the productivity of the gas tax is falling, leading transportation officials to seek supplements and alternatives. The Seattle Times editorial board writes that California has stepped up fuel efficiency targets.

In the voluntary agreement announced late last month, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW agreed to increase their fleets’ fuel efficiency to an average 51 miles per gallon by 2026. That would increase the industry average by 50%…

The trend is clear. The traditional revenue streams for transportation are approaching their limits. I-976, again, risks dramatic reductions in transportation projects already underway.