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I-985 called a tax grab

Opponents say only metropolitan Seattle would benefit from initiative

An argument often used to support anti-tax proposals from Tim Eyman is being used against his latest statewide initiative.

Opponents of Eyman’s latest concept say a vote in favor of Initiative 985 is a vote to suck money away from Eastern Washington to metropolitan Seattle.

Eyman’s initiative would divert 15 percent of all state sales taxes generated through vehicle sales, and from traffic tickets issued through camera enforcement programs, into a state fund that would pay for measures to alleviate traffic congestion.

A study from the Sightline Institute, which has contributed to the campaign opposed to the initiative, says of the $623 million expected to be raised statewide for programs aimed at reducing traffic congestion, almost $400 million would be spent in King County. The only other county that would get more money than it raised is Snohomish, according to the study.

Sightline is a Seattle-based think tank that promotes the environment.

Eyman calls the study, which was released earlier this month, “laughably biased.”

He said opponents are trying to make it look like folks will pay higher taxes, even though the money raised comes through existing taxes and traffic fines. He also said the study uses figures that haven’t yet been determined, such as the amount each city will get to improve synchronization of stoplights.

“There’s no way that anybody can calculate what that’s going to cost until the state auditor steps forward with his experts,” Eyman said. Clark Williams-Derry, Sightline’s research supervisor, led the study. While some figures are best-guess estimates, Williams-Derry said, they’re based on car sales, state transportation department figures on congestion and other reliable data.

He estimates that money from Spokane’s red-light camera program and diverted sales taxes from car sales in Spokane County would raise about $40 million for the traffic de-congestion fund over five years. But in return, only about $11 million would make its way back to Spokane, he said.

The state’s Office of Financial Management estimates that the initiative would raise $623 million statewide over five years. About $224 million of that would be directed at opening carpool lanes to all traffic outside of morning and afternoon rush hours.

But since there are no carpool lanes in Spokane County, that money can’t be spent in Spokane, Williams-Derry said.

Spokane likely would get a portion of the $66 million earmarked for projects that synchronize stoplights and part of the $333 million aimed at other projects. But most of those funds will be spent in metropolitan Seattle because no matter how bad Spokane’s traffic might be, it doesn’t compare with traffic headaches in King and Snohomish counties, Williams-Derry said.

Eyman argues that the initiative “will benefit every single person in the state.”

“It requires every single city and every single county to optimize traffic flow … But they won’t have to use any local dollars to do it,” Eyman said. “Our initiative is trying to bring back some of those transportation revenues and actually have them go to transportation.”