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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Timm Ormsby and Alisha Benson: I-976 bad news all around

alisha benson

I-976 is bad news for everyone who lives and works in the Spokane region..

Before you vote on the November ballot, you should understand why our region’s business, labor and environmental organizations have come together to fight Initiative 976, or I-976.

I-976 repeals several critical sources of transportation funding that are used to fix dangerous highways, retrofit bridges and overpasses, fund transit, build voter-approved projects, improve freight corridors, and invest in the Washington State Patrol.

Our region needs more transportation investment, not less. With more than a half-million people now living in Spokane County, our job and population growth is stretching the limits of our current transportation system. Our roads are increasingly congested with both commuters and commerce and our transit agencies are increasingly busy.

We have worked hard to get the state to invest in Spokane, but if I-976 passes, we risk losing the progress we’ve made working with our state legislators to pay for the North/South Corridor (NSC), the I-90 Barker-to-Harvard interchanges and the I-90/Medical Lake and Geiger interchanges.

These are projects we desperately need but could be deprioritized and defunded if I-976 passes.

Why? Because I-976 eliminates $4 billion of funding over the next 10 years. It is a drastic drop in revenue and the Legislature would have to rewrite the entire transportation budget with less money and ever-increasing costs. All projects would have to be reconsidered and may be canceled or delayed, depending on Legislative priorities. The longer projects are delayed, the more they cost.

I-976 reduces state funds, but also makes it harder for local communities to be independent of Olympia. I-976 eliminates the ability of cities to form transportation benefit districts (TBDs), and to use car tabs to solve local problems. In Spokane, most TBD funds are used to repair residential streets, and for pedestrian projects, such as building sidewalks around schools. Those funds can also be used to repair pavement, seal cracks, improve street lighting and add curb cuts.

It doesn’t make sense that a statewide initiative would take away the ability to fund basic local road maintenance, but that’s exactly what it would do. If I-976 passes, car tabs might cost less, but every dollar will go straight to Olympia, with no guarantee that any funds will come back. Those savings come at a cost to you, our community and our future.

Many other important services are at stake as well.

Local transit programs receive state grant funding to help ensure access for people with disabilities, senior citizens, veterans, tribes, and low-income riders. These services are crucial for people to get jobs, appointments, buy groceries and live independently. In Spokane, another $11.7 million is at risk for the Spokane Transit Authority Central City Line, putting the project completion at risk.

And last, but certainly not least, I-976 hits us where it really hurts: jobs and commerce.

Huge amounts of raw materials, agricultural goods and manufactured products depend on effective traffic corridors. Many jobs are at stake, including good paying, high skill construction jobs. Exports support millions of Washington state families, which is why transportation cuts will slow traffic and our economy.

For these reasons and more, our region’s business, labor and environmental leaders oppose I-976. It threatens our economy and our livelihoods. It’s just too big a risk.

Say yes to a strong Washington and vote NO on I-976.

Timm Ormsby is the president of the Spokane Regional Labor Council. Alisha Benson is the chief executive officer of Greater Spokane Incorporated.