7/20/2011Washington: Initiative Measure Targets Toll Roads
Referendum in Washington state would prohibit diversion of tolls to non-road purposes.
Voters in Washington state will decide in November whether to slow down the state's push toward tolling. Initiative 1125 prohibits lawmakers from diverting toll road revenue and other levies on motorists toward non-transportation purposes. It also forces politicians to vote directly on any toll hikes.
"If there's going to be tolls, there has to be accountability and transparency," initiative co-sponsor Tim Eyman of Voters Want More Choices wrote in an email. "It's simply not too much to ask for taxpayers who are being forced to pay twice for their roadway infrastructure (the highest gas tax in the nation and tolls) that the legislature be required to follow the law and abide by the Constitution."
The 18th Amendment to the state Constitution requires all gas tax and other highway fees to be "used exclusively for highway purposes." State officials are currently planning to divert the revenue from tolling Interstate 90 to underwrite the Highway 520 bridge project.
"When tolls lose their connection to the project they're paying for, they stop being tolls and they become just another tax," Eyman said.
Voters have already endorsed limitations on the use of toll revenue. Last year, 64 percent approved Initiative 1053, which required elected legislators to take a recorded vote before raising taxes and fees. The state legislature, however, decided to undermine the vote by punting responsibility for the hikes to an unelected transportation commission.
"Special interest groups and politicians don't want an open debate on this," Eyman explained. "They prefer cutting backroom deals and keeping the voters in the dark about what they're doing. With I-1125, the public will learn about what's going on and get the chance to weigh in in a meaningful way."
Under the proposal, no revenue in the motor vehicle fund or toll fund could be used for non-transportation purposes. Road lanes paid for with tolls or gas taxes could not be taken away from motorists and used for bicycle lanes or mass transit. Tolls on a given road may only fund improvements to that road, and the tolls must end once the cost of construction is paid in full.
A total of 327,043 voters signed a petition turned in earlier this month to qualify the measure for the ballot. The text of I-1125 is available in a PDF file at the source link below.