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Wednesday, April 8, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Initiative Measure 1125

The Law as it Presently Exists

The legislature has enacted various laws that direct where and how tolls can be set for bridges, ferries, tunnels, roads, and related facilities. Those laws also restrict the ways in which toll revenue can be used. Initiative Measure No. 1125 would impose additional restrictions on the use of toll revenue.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Washington Constitution requires that certain state revenue be used only for “highway purposes.” That amendment, which was approved in 1944, provides that the following revenue must be paid into the state treasury and placed in a special fund to be used exclusively for “highway purposes”: all fees the state collects as license fees for motor vehicles; all excise taxes the state collects on the sale, distribution, or use of motor vehicle fuel; and all other state revenue “intended to be used for highway purposes.” That fund is the “motor vehicle fund” established in RCW 46.68.070. The Eighteenth Amendment also lists some uses that must be considered “highway purposes,” including the necessary operating, engineering, and legal expenses connected with the administration of public highways, county roads, and city streets; and the construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, county roads, bridges, and city streets.

Since well before the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment, the legislature has authorized the use of tolls as one means of paying for the acquisition, construction, and operation of bridges, ferries, tunnels, roads, and related facilities. That authority includes the use of tolls to retire bonds issued to finance acquisition and construction of bridges, ferries, tunnels, roads, and related facilities; tolls used for that purpose must be deposited in special trust funds kept separate from all other funds.

Under current law, the legislature must authorize the collection of tolls but it can delegate the authority to set the amounts of tolls. The legislature has designated the state Transportation Commission as the “tolling authority” responsible for setting most tolls, under standards and guidelines established in law to ensure that the revenue generated by tolls is sufficient to pay maintenance and operating costs for the facility; pay principal and interest on bonds, related financing costs, and insurance; and reimburse the motor vehicle fund for any money used from that fund to pay for bonds. Unless otherwise provided in law, all revenue from a toll facility is to be used for that facility, and tolls may continue to be collected after initial construction has been paid for to fund additional capacity, maintenance, and operation of the facility.

The Effect of the Proposed Measure, if Approved

Initiative Measure No. 1125 would require that toll amounts be set by the legislature by majority vote, rather than by the Transportation Commission, and would make the setting of toll amounts subject to statutes that require preparation of various reports and analyses relating to costs. It would require that tolls be “uniform and consistent” and would not allow variable pricing of tolls. (“Variable priced” tolls typically are higher during periods of traffic congestion and lower at other times of the day or week.)

While the measure would leave in place the authority to collect and use tolls for the preservation, maintenance, management, and operation of a facility, it would add provisions that limit the use of some tolls to construction and capital improvement only and that require tolls on future facilities to end after the cost of the project is paid. The measure would require revenue from tolls to be used only for purposes “consistent with” the Eighteenth Amendment, and would prohibit any revenue in the motor vehicle fund or any toll fund from being transferred to the “general fund or other funds” and used for “non-transportation purposes.”

The measure would restate the existing requirement that tolls must be used on the facility for which they are collected, explicitly referencing the Interstate 90 floating bridge. The measure also would prohibit the state or a state agency from transferring or using “gas-tax-funded or toll-funded lanes on state highways” for “non-highway purposes.”

SOURCE: Washington Secretary of State’s Office

Election results

Option Votes Pct
No 897,220 52.40%
Yes 813,613 47.60%

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