[NWPT60]The Seattle Times’ James Vesely and I don’t often see eye to eye, but since his latest column is more observation than opinion, there’s not much for me to disagree with. Vesely reports on the growing frustration of federal officials over our region’s apparent inability to prioritize our regional transportation planning… and stick to it.
Vesely is absolutely dead-on when he writes that our “confusion and indecision about transportation… [is] not imposed on us in Olympia or Washington D.C.” But then, neither is it imposed on us by our local elected officials. Let’s face it, our voters are more than a touch schizo when it comes to transportation issues… after all, where else but Seattle could a truly grassroots project like the Monorail be four times approved by voters, only to be vilified as a product of an arrogant and out-of-control bureaucracy? I know it’s fashionable to blame politicians for failing to respect “the will of the people,” but really, how can you respect a will that’s about as steadfast as that of a toddler who’s missed his nappy time?
Perhaps a dictatorial regime like that of New York’s Robert Moses wouldn’t quite play well with voters accustomed to the nicey-nice “Seattle way”… but at least Moses got things done. The closest we’ve come is Ron Sims unshakeable support for voter-approved light rail, an act of political courage that has earned him the passionate scorn of opponents, a reaction typical of a region that seems to confuse leadership with arrogance. The result is a political gridlock that’s far more intractable than the transportation gridlock we’re trying to fix. And as Vesely points out, it’s not just our own congressional delegation that’s growing frustrated at voters’ mixed messages.
Even more pointed was the statement from transportation chairman Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who told Seattle Times Washington, D.C., reporter Alicia Mundy, “Anyone who thinks of repealing the gas tax is not thinking.”
Young said in The Times of July 1: “Your problem won’t go away just by wishing it away. It’s going (to) cost and you’re going to have to pay for it.”
Again… no kidding.
Initiative 912 backers — like backers of all initiatives — talk about sending a message to Olympia… but I think most legislators don’t need another initiative to tell them that voters would prefer to get something for nothing. The fact is, the gas tax hike was part of a comprehensive transportation plan, that carefully prioritized transportation projects based on a number of criteria, the most important being immediate public safety. Legislators understood that a tax hike would be unpopular, but in this case necessary, and if voters reward their boldness by repealing the increase, the Legislature will likely respond by giving the public the only available alternative… absolutely nothing.
Such inaction would surely cost lives and economic growth… but there can be no statewide transportation planning without statewide funding.
If, as every poll and instinct predict, voters will not hesitate to pass the initiative repealing the added tax on gasoline, the next logical step would be an effort for counties to keep all the tax revenue they raise within the county and not spread it around the state, giving rise to the islands of isolation known as the state of Washington.
This would be bad public policy, but if I-912 passes, it may be the only way to provide a stabile funding source for desperately needed transportation improvements. Anybody want to sponsor an initiative?