For voters looking for an objective and thorough analysis of I-976, we recommend a new report from the Washington Research Council. The six-page analysis details the fiscal impacts of the initiative and its consequences for transportation planning. Here’s the WRC summary:
I-976 would limit annual state and local vehicle license fees to $30, revoke the authority for transportation benefit districts to impose vehicle fees, repeal the state motor vehicle sales tax, revoke Sound Transit’s authority to impose a motor vehicle excise tax (if possible to do so under the terms of its bonds), and specify that any motor vehicle excise tax be calculated based on the vehicle’s Kelley Blue Book value.
The Office of Financial Management estimates that, over six years, I-976 would reduce state revenues by $1.923 billion and local revenues by $2.317 billion. In 2019–21 alone, state revenues would be reduced by $478 million. Much of the state revenue reduction would accrue to the multimodal account, which funds projects including public transportation, rail, and cycling. There would also be significant impacts to the motor vehicle account and other accounts that pay for road projects and repairs. Sound Transit’s revenues would decrease by $328 million a year, and local transportation benefit district revenues would decline by $58 million a year.
Providing for the transportation of people and goods is a vital role of government. The significant funding reductions that would result from I-976, at both the state and local levels, would require lawmakers to rewrite transportation budgets—putting many projects and programs at risk.
The nation’s infrastructure is frequently talked about at political campaign rallies. The promise of better roads, funding and jobs created from infrastructure projects are key ticket items. They’re right about the nation needing infrastructure improvements: a Federal Highway Administration reports show 61% of the country’s highways are in fair to poor condition. Transportation for America estimates a cost of $231 billion a year to keep our existing road network in acceptable repair.
Taxpayer funded highway capital delegated for states to maintain roads isn’t enough to cover necessary repairs. Many states are spending the majority of their highway capital on expansion instead of maintenance of roads. At this rate, it becomes a never ending game of maintenance catch up. On top of taxpayer dollars, it’s estimated that driving on roads in poor condition costs motorists $120 billion in vehicle repairs and operating costs. That’s $533 per driver.
There’s more in the report. Washington does not come off well in the analysis. The Puget Sound Business Journal writes,
Washington’s road infrastructure ranks in the bottom half of U.S. states, according to a recent study.
Seattle-based QuoteWizard, LendingTree’s online insurance marketplace, ranked the condition and investment in roads for all 50 states, based on an analysis of Federal Highway Administration data.
Rankings are a composite score based on percentage of roads in poor condition, annual cost per driver due to roads that need repair and the percentage of structurally deficient bridges…
Here’s how Washington, which ranks 30th overall, stacks up in each category:
- Roads in poor condition: 29 percent
- Annual cost per motorist: $643
- Bridges structurally deficient: 4 percent
- Spending on road repairs: 21 percent
As the WRC concludes,
Providing for the transportation of people and goods is a vital role of government.
I-976 puts a lot at risk.