Councilmember Asher shares views on Initiative 1125 -- Protect Gas-Taxes And Toll-Revenues Act

City staff urges Council to oppose initiative claimed to have little or no fiscal impact on Kirkland

According to the City staff memo prepared for Tuesday's Public Hearing, Initiative 1125 will have "little or no direct fiscal impact on cities." Despite this conclusion, the memo recommends Council adopt Resolution R-4891 and oppose the initiative.

We were curious, if Initiative 1125 would have no revenue impact on Kirkland, why would City staff recommends the Council oppose it?

We contacted the city seeking clarification of council agenda item 9 (a), titled "Resolution R-4891, Stating the City Council's Opposition to Initiative 1125 on the November 8, 2011, General Election Ballot."

Councilmember Dave Asher responded to our inquiry detailing the impacts of Initiative 1125, if passed by the voters in November.
We thank Councilmember Asher for sharing his views.

The staff paper is correct that Initiative 1125 will not have a direct revenue impact to Kirkland since Kirkland does not collect any toll revenue. However, from my reading, it appears that the initiative will have a severe impact on Kirkland residents and transportation improvements across our state. Most notably, Initiative 1125 will jeopardize the ability to complete the State Route 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program or address the diversion impacts on Kirkland.

The requirement to restrict toll revenue to construction of the project would prevent any of that revenue from being used to address toll diversion through Kirkland. Traffic impacts expected from those trying to avoid SR 520 tolling by driving through Kirkland to a northshore route could be left to Kirkland to resolve on its own, since none of the tolling revenue could be used. That’s unacceptably risky for Kirkland about an impact that is guaranteed. Further, the restriction of tolling revenue to construction doesn’t address long-term maintenance needs, which are substantial on a floating-bridge corridor. Nor would those revenues be able to be used to assist in managing demand in a corridor, supplementing bus service, or providing bicycle or pedestrian facilities. That turns the clock back a century in dealing with transportation as a system.

Lawful initiatives may only address one topic. Initiative 1125 covers a number of topics which, if passed, would likely cause years of litigation, delaying completion of improvements to State Route 520 in Seattle. Right now, we are faced with a funding hole in the SR 520 project that will require reduction of the 6 lanes being constructed on the Eastside and on the bridge to the existing 4 lanes when it reaches the shore in Seattle. That’s ridiculous. It has been generally assumed that a likely pathway to filling the SR 520 funding gap would be to toll the other bridge in the trans-lake corridor, Interstate 90, when the diversion impacts became evident. Initiative 1125 would eliminate that option and further penalize Kirkland’s economy as a result.

Provisions of the initiative to put toll-rate decisions in the hands of politicians in the Legislature appear fundamentally flawed. No other state in the nation does this. My understanding is that this provision of Initiative 1125 would be viewed as added risk that politically-determined rates would not cover requirements of bondholders, thus increasing the cost of borrowing. The state Treasurer says that the initiative would make toll-revenue bonds “prohibitively expensive.” That jeopardizes transportation improvements across the entire state.

Variable tolling is a smart mechanism to manage the traffic on a particular roadway to keep it flowing relatively freely. Prohibiting variable tolling, in addition to having the Legislature deal with rates once per year, doesn’t accomplish that key purpose. Having the state Transportation Commission address the tolling needs for transportation purposes, not political purposes, certainly seems to me to make the most sense. I have advocated for this at the Eastside Transportation Partnership for several years.

Those are some of the reasons it appears to me that we should consider opposing this initiative. I am open to hearing opposing views at Tuesday’s meeting that may refute these, and other, points made in the resolution.

Thanks,

Dave Asher