Our hearts sank when the election results filtered in on Nov. 5.
Although San Juan County voters rejected I-976, voters statewide approved the Tim Eyman-sponsored measure that will have dire consequences for our ferry system.
We are very disappointed that the promise of I-976’s $30 tabs was just too appealing to those who have watched the cost of registration inch its way up. There are hidden costs behind this measure because I-976 will destroy the state’s transportation budget.
The annual fee to register a vehicle in Washington funds the state’s transportation budget. The transportation department is what ensures our roads aren’t riddled with potholes, our bridges don’t collapse and our ferries continue to run. It also funds the Washington State Police and Department of Licensing.
In 1999, Republican lobbyist Tim Eyman was able to get I-695, also a $30 tab initiative, on the ballot, where it passed. Though ultimately thrown out by the courts, Legislature bent to the will of the people and enacted $30 tabs anyway. This crippled the transportation system in the state for quite some time. It’s just now starting to regain its footing. After $30 tabs passed last time, ferry fares increased by an average of 20 percent in 2001 — the largest increase in Washington State Ferry history.
With the approval of I-976, Washington State Ferries will be gutted — it’s always the first to receive cuts, according to legislators, because the east side of the state believes we’re all wealthy and the ferries are our private yacht service.
According to county councilmember Rick Hughes, I-976 will cost San Juan County $600,000 for road funding and it will cause a $90 million deficit for the ferry system.
The Legislature was conservative with the transportation budget this year, in anticipation of Eyman’s initiative. Thus why it funded only a single existing ferry to be retrofitted as hybrid electric and diesel. No new ferries were funded in this session. The islands aren’t set to get a new ferry until 2028 as is, and since Eyman’s initiative passed that date could be pushed out further due to lack of funding. WSF’s 20-year plan didn’t account for $30 tabs.
We’re hoping the approval of I-976 gets taken to the courts and overturned again because this result is devastating to the islands.
Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement on the results of Initiative 976.
“It is clear that the majority of voters objected to current car tab levels. It is also clear that this vote means there will be adverse impacts on our state transportation system.
“I believe Washingtonians recognize the need to support a safe and reliable transportation system which includes buses, light rail, and ferries and is essential to support our robust economy, ease congestion and fight climate change.
“Accordingly, in response to the will of the people, I am taking immediate action. I have directed the Washington State Department of Transportation to postpone projects not yet underway. I have also asked other state agencies that receive transportation funding, including the Washington State Patrol and Department of Licensing, to defer non-essential spending as we review impacts.
“I will work with legislators, agency leadership and stakeholders on how best to respond to the impacts of this initiative.
“I remain committed to finding solutions to meet Washington’s growing and urgent transportation needs.”