New initiative would halt transit
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:40 PM
"Martha Rose loses no sleep over the thought of Freddy Kruger, the razor-nailed villain of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.But Rose, Island Transit director, is horrified by Tim Eyman, the initiative-armed reshaper of state transportation policy.Rose's Island Transit survived Eyman I, which came in the form of I-695. The $30 license tab initiative, approved by voters last November, had her bus system on the ropes, but Island County taxpayers saved it by adopting a transit sales tax increase in April. Otherwise, Island Transit would have lost two-thirds of its funding.But now Rose faces Eyman II in the form of his new initiative, I-745, which will, if approved by voters in November, hack and slash Island Transit until it's nothing but road kill.That initiative would shut down Island Transit, Rose said last week. As she and other transit officials read I-745, it would take 90 percent of all non-farebox transit revenue and dedicate it to road improvements.Since Island Transit has no fares and no farebox revenue, the math is easy. Ninety percent - that's what it says, stated Rose. Having 10 percent (left) doesn't even cover our system's liability. In other words, there wouldn't even be enough money to shut the system down and cover all related costs.Eyman, a Mukilteo businessman, submitted thousands of signatures in support of I-745 to the Secretary of State's office last Thursday. State law requires 179,248 valid signatures to send the initiative to a vote, but Eyman submitted over 250,000. The intent of I-745, according to its backers, is to improve traffic flow in the Puget Sound region by dedicating more money to roads without imposing new taxes. To do so, it would take money from transit systems. The initiative requires a minimum of 90 percent of transportation funds to be spent on construction of new roads, new lanes on existing roads, improvements to the traffic carrying capacity of roads, and maintenance of roads.The 90 percent figure is a hard minimum for road expenditures. Other transportation projects, like transit, will be left to fight over the remaining 10 percent. It takes away any local control of your own transit taxes, Rose said. The only transit revenue left untouched is that derived from fare boxes. Island Transit has never charged fares, and Rose has argued successfully for years that fares on her rural bus system would barely cover the cost of collecting those fares. Also watching I-745 with interest will be Washington State Ferries, which is still struggling to rebound from the effects of I-695. Although the 2000 legislature provided stop-gap funding to continue near-normal ferry operations, any permanent solution will be up to the 2001 Legislature.Patricia Patterson, public affairs officer for State Ferries, said last week that the ferry system may be protected from I-745 because by state law it is part of the highway system.It's really not clear whether it would impact the ferry system or not, Patterson said. It depends on the interpretation of the (state) Attorney General's office. Patterson posed a couple of questions: If the intent of I-745 is to build roads, then are car ferries to be considered roads? How about passenger ferries?We're still trying to figure it out, Patterson said. It's too early to say.Last week, Eyman's initiative received the support of the Associated General Contractors of Washington, whose membership includes 600 companies. Board members took the view that the voters should be given the opportunity to decide where existing transportation dollars should go, a news release stated."