Natalie DeFord/staff photo
                                At a an Oct. 14 special meeting the Issaquah City Council unanimously voted to oppose Initiative 976.

Natalie DeFord/staff photo At a an Oct. 14 special meeting the Issaquah City Council unanimously voted to oppose Initiative 976.

Issaquah City Council votes to oppose Initiative 976

Measure jeopardizes priority transportation projects.

At an Oct. 14 special meeting, following a public hearing, the Issaquah City Council unanimously voted to oppose Initiative 976, relating to vehicle taxes and fees.

The Tim Eyman-led measure would do a number of things, including limiting car tabs to $30 a year. The city said that would eliminate funding for transit and transportation projects at state and local levels.

Eyman said the $30 license tabs for vehicles has twice been voted on before – in 1999 and in 2002.

“Voters voted for $30 tabs twice, politicians took it away, and I-976 gives voters a chance to bring it back,” he said. “I-976 repeals the dishonest vehicle tax, the dishonest vehicle valuation schedule, and sets license tabs to a fair flat reasonable $30 per year for vehicles.”

The hearing opened with an informational presentation given by Autumn Monahan, assistant to the city administrator.

Five people then gave comment in opposition of I-976. No one spoke out in favor of it.

Commenters included Washington state Sen. Mark Mullet and state Reps. Lisa Callan and Bill Ramos.

All spoke of projects and plans that would lose funding, including major transportation and traffic mitigation efforts that have been the region’s top priority. Some also mentioned the potential for loss of jobs.

“Every constituent I’ve talked to is complaining about traffic and transportation issues,” Ramos said. He said the initiative risks plans to address those problems.

Mullet echoed that concern.

“We cannot solve the region’s transportation problems if we take away this revenue,” he said.

“Any way you look at it, we know this is going to be devastating,” Callan said.

They encouraged everyone to spread the word and start talking to their neighbors, telling people to vote “No.”

Eyman pointed out that the state has several billions of dollars in tax surplus that he said is, “more than enough to back fill any effected program.”

Discussion from council included more reasons to combat the initiative.

Councilmember Tola Marts said that, if passed, the initiative’s stripping of anticipated funding, “would require a ground-up recreation of our long-term plan for the city.”

Councilmember Paul Winterstein said he felt there were problems structurally with the bill, and also that it wouldn’t be right to undo what voters had already passed.

“To risk something this region voted for is structurally wrong,” he said.

Councilmember Mariah Bettise reiterated that it would have a huge impact on Issaquah.

“Local projects, state projects, transit projects would all be at risk without this revenue stream,” she said.

Eyman later told the Reporter that in East Wenatchee their city just decided to do the opposite and stay out of it. He said it was an interesting contrast to see them not use taxpayer dollars to tell their constituents how to vote.

“Fortunately, all Issaquah voters get to vote on I-976 and don’t much care that a bunch of politicians told them not to vote for it. They’re just a bunch of pigs at the trough getting the dishonest taxes,” Eyman said.

He said that the initiative would make it so all future taxes must be voter approved and use Kelley Blue Book calculations.

“In other words, they must ask our permission and tax us honestly,” he said.

A city staff report showed that the initiative would decrease direct revenues to cities with transportation benefit districts, decrease revenue to numerous state transportation accounts, and reduce revenue to Sound Transit.

Over the course of 2020-2025 the State Office of Financial Management estimates $1.9 billion less in revenue for state transportation accounts and $2.3 billion less in revenue for Sound Transit and statewide transportation benefit districts.

Nine state transportation accounts would be affected by the Multimodal Account, which funds all transportation projects including public transportation and rail, receiving an estimated $1.4 billion less in revenues.

Sound Transit could see an estimated $328 million less per year for a total of about $6.9 billion less by 2041.

That could impact the Sound Transit 3 expansion that is currently set to bring light rail to Issaquah in 2041. Sound Transit would have to decide whether to delay or cancel some projects as a result of such financial changes.

Three of the projects in Issaquah’s adopted Capital Improvement Plan are tied to $1.7 million in transportation grants that could be eliminated by the passing of I-976.

Voters previously approved additional motor vehicle taxes in November 2016 to support public transportation.

Initiative 976, further detailed in the state voter guide, will be on the ballot in the Nov. 5 General Election.

Additional information about the measure and its potential implications for Issaquah can be found in a staff report available on the city’s website (https://bit.ly/31j9M3S).

“I firmly believe this is going to pass statewide, and I believe it’s going to pass in all 39 counties because people are so mad about the amount of taxes,” Eyman said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how many counties are in the state. There are 39 counties in Washington state.

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