There was a lot of outrage from government employees and other people on the left about the passage of 1-976 on November 5. The howls were caused by the alleged impact to state and local budgets (more on that below), but missed what I think is the real import of the vote: this was the THIRD time Washington voters called for a cut to taxes on car tabs.
I-695, approved by the voters on 11/2/99. Invalidated by the Washington State Supreme Court on 3/14/2000.
I-776, approved by the voters on 11/5/02. Was ruled unconstitutional in a King County court, but then upheld by the state supreme court, and later gutted by the court in December of 2006.
I-976, approved by the voters on 11/5/19. Seattle, King County and other agencies promise to file suit.
Voters have repeatedly spoken up for $30 car tabs. The arrogance and tone-deafness on the other side is surprising. It seems that voters don’t matter, even when they vote three times on an issue over a period of twenty years.
The lady doth protest too much, methinks
A Seattle Times story quoted initiative opponents saying “the fees ‘will result in drastic cuts in a variety of critical areas’”. Really? Drastic cuts? Where? A lot of the angst centers on the state roads budget, and on mass transit. So, let’s look at the impact on budgets for the State of Washington, and for King County Metro Transit.
I-976 and the state budget
According to Wikipedia, the state budget is $118.4 billion. (One of my insights in researching this post is that government entities should be made to file a non-profit equivalent of a 10-K report. It is hard to get consistent and understandable reporting on government budgets.) According to a Seattle Times story, the impact of I-976 on the state budget in fiscal year 2020 is $175 million. Check my math, that looks like .15% (fifteen one hundredths of a percent).
I-976 and the Metro Transit Budget
It looks to me like the annual budget for Metro is $1.28 billion. (That’s an operating budget of $1.9 billion for a two-year period, and a capital budget of $2 billion for a six-year period.) King County reports an estimated impact from I-976 over a six year period at $119 million; that’s $19.8 million per year. Divide 19.8 million into 1.28 billion, that’s 1.5 percent. King County Metro expects the impact of I-179 to be 1.5% of their budget. I’m doing the math, but I’m using their numbers.
We can all agree that 0.15% is not drastic. So, is one percent “drastic”? Would FIVE percent be drastic? I’m laughing…(Whenever the press reports on budget cuts using raw numbers rather than percentages, unleash your skepticism! They’re either lazy or hiding something.)
Finally, where is the press? News coverage of I-976 completely missed two important issues: 1) the historical context – voters already approved $30 tabs twice before, and then what happened afterwards; 2) the budget impact of I-976 – which is not much. America loves an underdog, and $30 car tabs fits the role perfectly; so why does I-976 get this unfair news coverage? Because it directly supports car ownership? Because it resonates so strongly with rural white folk? You tell me.
(Note – for readers unfamiliar with Washington State politics, you’re probably wondering “Who the bleep is Tim Eyman?” Tim Eyman was the organizer/sponsor behind each of the three $30 tab initiatives: I-695, I-776 and I-976.)
The Bottom Line
If the public votes for something three times over in twenty years, that’s a clear expression of the will of the people. If the left (or the right) wants to worship at the temple of democracy, then they need to respect decisions they dislike, equally along with decisions they like. Anything else is hypocrisy. Right?
Newspeople need to look at their role in this. Shameful.