SEATTLE – Frequent initiative sponsor Tim Eyman said Sunday he’s pushing a statewide campaign this year to make sure that the Legislature – and not the unelected state Transportation Commission – is responsible for setting highway tolls.
Last year, Eyman’s Initiative 1053 passed, demanding that any new or increased fees require majority legislative approval. He says lawmakers violated that in the pending transportation budget by re-delegating the ability to set toll rates to the commission, which is appointed by the governor.
He announced his new initiative – I-1125 – in an email to supporters. It would require lawmakers not just to approve tolling generally for a project, but to set the specific rates as well. It also would reiterate that gas tax and toll revenue must be used on transportation spending, and bar tolls from one project from being used to pay for another. For example, he said, if the state decides to toll Interstate 90, that money could not be used to pay for the new Highway 520 bridge.
“This is what the voters have repeatedly voted for,” he said. “If the government is going to take more of the people’s money, the voters have to have the ability to hold the decision makers accountable at the ballot box.”
Eyman said he’s starting late in the campaign season and said it might be tough to collect 241,000 valid signatures by July 8 to get the initiative on the fall ballot.
The chairwoman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, Democrat Mary Margaret Haugen, said Sunday the initiative makes little sense. She said toll rates need to be set so the state can pay off its debt, and requiring the Legislature to vote every time the rates need to be changed would be inefficient and unnecessarily political.
The Legislature is only in session for a small part of the year, she noted, so keeping toll-rate authority in the hands of the commission allows the state greater flexibility.
“You have to be able to respond whenever the tolls need to be raised to pay off the debt,” said Haugen, of Camano Island. “The commission holds public meetings. It has an oversight committee that meets with them. They do a very good job setting tolls.”
Furthermore, she said, tolling is only allowed when the Legislature approves it – so voters already can hold lawmakers accountable, even if lawmakers don’t set the rates themselves.
Tolling on Highway 520 could start as soon as June to pay for construction of the new bridge between Seattle and Bellevue. Rates are expected to range from $1.10 to $3.50 for drivers with Good To Go accounts, and an additional $1.50 for drivers without them.
The tolls are expected to collect $1 million a week.