With road transportation accounting for 62% of Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions, Initiative Measure 976 is a climate issue more than anything else. The measure seeks to reduce annual motor-vehicle fees to $30 by removing taxes and fees that fund the state’s transportation projects.

Proponents of the Tim Eyman sponsored measure claim Washingtonians are paying dishonest and inaccurate vehicle fees under the current system. Their proposed solution is to reduce tab fees to a level established in 1999 when the state had 2 million fewer people.

Meanwhile, a coalition of transit, business and labor leaders oppose the measure. The coalition argues that I-976 would drastically reduce Washington’s transportation funding, leading to road congestion and unfair access to transportation services, among other things. Mainstream Republicans of Washington recently joined the No-976 camp as well, as shown in the tweet below.

A fiscal impact statement produced by the Office of Financial Management estimated a total revenue loss of nearly $2 billion to the state in the next six years. Washington’s motor vehicle, multimodal (public transit, rail and bicycle projects) and highway patrol accounts would be hit the hardest.

Focusing on climate impacts

Its proponents tend to frame I-976 as another fiscal battle in the war between taxpayers and the state, but underneath this is really a crucial climate decision. Cars on the road are already the state’s biggest polluter. A yes-vote for this measure encourages more cars on less efficient roadways with less low-emission public options. It’s not just less money for the state – it’s less resources to address a bigger problem.

Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, a spokeswomen for No on I-976, put it like this:

“By forcing the cancellation and delay of road construction needed to manage our growing population, I-976 makes existing truck and car traffic even slower. Our state has increased by one million people in a dozen years—to keep trips short, we need good, safe roads, bridges and rail lines.”

Permanent Offense did not provide a statement upon request.

State projects and funds that could be affected by I-976’s passing, according to No976.org:

  • $60 million per year for Transportation Benefit Districts, which pays for local transit and road construction in 61 cities.
  • $20 billion in Sound Transit funding for light rail expansion, bus transit and commuter rail in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. (Note: Voters approved this package in 2016).
  • Multimodal projects like vanpool, special needs transit, Regional Mobility Grants, expansion of pedestrian and bike infrastructure.
  • $15 million per year from Washington State Patrol.
  • Highway safety projects for bridges and overpasses.
  • “Connecting Washington” projects on I-90, SR 520, I-405 and SR 167/SR 509.

The I-976 vote will reveal where climate change registers on the radar of Washington voters. Will this measure be seen as a climate issue and will we absorb the sting of annual vehicle fees to stand up for climate solutions?

The bottom line is 1999 is long gone. Movie tickets don’t cost $5, Big Mouth Billy Bass isn’t up on the wall singing “Take Me to the River,” and it simply takes more than $30 per vehicle to combat today’s transportation emissions. We can’t continue to pretend climate change isn’t an issue and we need keep the ship steered in the right direction.

Graphic courtesy of https://www.no976.org/.

Feature photo by Larry James Baylas on Unsplash