Our central gripe with many of the tax issues that come up as initiatives is that they only deal with one side of the equation: They cap, or reduce, taxes, but have little or nothing to say about how services are supposed to be maintained at the same time. But it has to be said: Washington's Tim Eyman may have something in Initiative 985, which offers a clear whole-picture proposal, in a structure that makes a great deal of sense.
I-985 has to do with road construction, maintenance and finance. Part of what Eyman's after here, as usual, is tax suppression, but this approach takes a thoughtful look at the subject. From Eyman's description:
ReduceCongestion.org, the official campaign name for the Reduce Traffic Congestion Initiative, will be filed with the Secretary of State's office in the Capitol Dome in Olympia at 11 am, January 4th, the first day initiatives to the people can be filed. Petitions for ReduceCongestion.org will be sent out to everyone in mid-February. We'll then have until early July to raise the funds and gather the 224,880 voter signatures to qualify ReduceCongestion.org for the November 10th, 2008 ballot.
Not surprisingly, the focus of ReduceCongestion.org is reducing traffic congestion. The measure:
* Opens carpool lanes to everyone during non-peak hours (midday and evenings on weekdays and all day and all night on weekends -- peak hours defined as Mon-Fri 6-9 am, 3-6 pm) -- which reduces traffic congestion and increases traffic flow;
* Requires cities and counties to synchronize traffic lights on heavily-traveled arterials and streets (with benchmarks and accountability provided by the State Auditor) -- which reduces traffic congestion and increases traffic flow; and
* Increases funding for emergency roadside assistance to clear out accidents faster (with benchmarks and accountability provided by the State Auditor) -- which reduces traffic congestion and increases traffic flow.
Okay, so where does the money come from? Mainly, the revenue or a portion of the revenue of a string of existing taxes or fees. One he mentions in a recent e-mail with clear delight is fines generated by red light traffic cameras:
"We're putting up red light traffic cameras throughout the city to make our streets safer; we're not doing it to make money."
That's all we hear from local politicians nowadays. Red light traffic cameras, and their $124 automatic tickets (they take your picture and mail you a huge ticket), are popping up throughout the state of Washington in large and small cities. The costs for the cameras are mostly paid for by the company that contracts with the city -- the company makes a 'commission' on every ticket -- and the profit from the cameras goes into the city's general fund. It's a huge cash cow for them.
But with a straight face, they say it's all for safety, it's all for the children.
Under I-985, the profit from red light traffic cameras is instead dedicated to a new state fund called the "Reduce Traffic Congestion Account." The city doesn't get the profit anymore, it instead goes to the state to implement the policies in the initiative (opens carpool lanes to everyone during non-peak hours, requires local governments to synchronize the traffic lights on heavily-traveled arterials and streets, and increases emergency roadside assistance funding to clear out accidents
faster). So the money that currently goes into the city's general fund will now go toward reducing traffic congestion for everyone.
We'd quibble with some of the details. But on the larger canvas, he may have something here.