A controversial statewide initiative that would restrict vehicle tab fees to $30 and potentially reduce funding for future transportation projects is expected to pass, fueling worries and action by state agencies and elected officials.
According to unofficial results from the Washington Secretary of State’s website, Initiative 976 is passing statewide with 53 percent of the vote as of Tuesday morning.
While the initiative has found success in many conservative communities, the measure is opposed in Thurston County by nearly 4 percentage points.
Still, Initiative 976 is almost certain to pass when the election is certified at the end of the month.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee directed the Washington State Department of Transportation to freeze all transportation construction projects not currently underway due to the measure.
Yelm Mayor JW Foster said Inslee’s postponement of projects is worrying on a local level.
“That’s exactly the kind of thing that we’re afraid is likely to happen to regional projects that impact Yelm,” Foster said. “Of course, the 510 bypass completion is No. 1, and then looking forward, anything that we hoped to do to 507 to ease congestion into Pierce County doesn’t look good for the near future if we don’t have a revenue stream to tap into at the state level.”
According to the WSDOT, funding for the State Route 510 Yelm Loop phase 2 project was secured back in 2017 through the Connecting Washington transportation package, which is funded through 16-year, 12-cent gas tax. It’s unclear whether these projects will be affected.
Over the last few weeks, lawmakers across the state have voiced opposition to the measure, among them Thurston County commissioners and Yelm City Council members.
In an email to the Nisqually Valley News on Thursday, WSDOT Communications Director Kris Rietmann Abrudan said the state agency plans on following Inslee’s direction on addressing the initiative and his plans to determine what parts of state transportation could be affected fiscally.
“Taking this action gives the Governor and Legislature time to determine how to implement the initiative as they work toward an amended budget next session,” Rietmann Abrudan wrote.
She also wrote that WSDOT doesn’t currently have a timeline for a list of project priorities.
Inslee’s direction also does not directly impact fish passage, preservation or specific safety-related projects, Rietmann Abrudan wrote.
In a Thursday afternoon press conference before the city of Seattle was set to announce legal action over the measure, initiative author Tim Eyman addressed a room of reporters to defend his current and past efforts to pass $30 car tabs.
“We’ve had two and a half years of the Legislature knowing about this problem, about this evaluation schedule and how screwed up it was. And it seemed to me the only way you can really influence that process is not on the inside — the only way you can do it is from the outside. You have to pressure your elected officials and I’ve never found anything that works better than a public vote on an issue,” Eyman said about the state’s vehicle valuation methods.
The city of Seattle and King County are planning to take legal action to stop the state measure from taking effect, according to multiple media outlets.
Eyman did not answer conclusively if he believed the measure would be “legally bulletproof” in the courts.