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NW Progressive Institute: $30 tabs would ‘gut’ vital infrastructure projects

Washington car tabs. (MyNorthwest)

Tax-weary car owners are celebrating the $30 tabs initiative on November’s ballot, I-976 — but according to Andrew Villeneuve of the Redmond-based Northwest Progressive Institute, it’s the community members themselves who would be hurt the most if it passes.

The initiative, sponsored by Tim Eyman, would limit car tab fees to just $30 per vehicle, unless voters approve additional charges in the future.

Opponents, however, say that the $30 tabs initiative removes critical funding from state infrastructure projects — everything from road and bridge improvements to funds for snowplows and ferries.

“If the funding is repealed, we’re looking at a loss of money for road projects, transit projects, freight mobility projects,” Villeneuve told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “So the state would suffer, and we would all lose if the initiative were passed.”

$30 car tabs officially on the November ballot

These projects help the local economy to thrive by keeping businesses strong and encouraging entrepreneurship in the area, he said.

“Without those projects, it’s really hard for businesses to compete, especially when you consider other markets,” he said. “We need to be able to get, for example, our goods from Eastern Washington to Western Washington to market.”

Perhaps even more important to Villeneuve is the safety angle — the funding also helps to update and fix out-of-date infrastructure. Villeneuve pointed to the 2013 Skagit River Bridge collapse as the kind of disaster that can be avoided in the future with enough revenue.

“Our number-one concern here is bridge and overpass safety,” he said.

The state’s valuation schedule

Dori’s listeners often hear him call Sound Transit the “most criminally corrupt public agency in the history of the United States” — in part due to the agency not using the Kelley Blue Book values of cars when calculating car tab fees.

Villeneuve, however, said that in the grand scheme of things, the positive outweighs the negative when it comes to Sound Transit. The Northwest Progressive Institute does not find Sound Transit’s actions to be illegal.

“No entity is perfect, and every entity, whether public or private, makes mistakes, but Sound Transit is building infrastructure that we need, including light rail, bus rapid transit, express bus, commuter rail,” he said. “The reality is, our traffic has been getting worse for years, and it will continue to get worse as our region grows … we need alternatives to our gridlocked highways.”

He noted that Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) had an amendment —  Amendment 53 to 2015’s Senate Bill 5987 — to change the state’s valuation schedule to one that would take car values down at a faster rate and thus ease the tax burden. However, it was the Senate Republicans who did not adopt it.

While Villeneuve said Sound Transit doesn’t use the valuation schedule he personally would choose, he feels that the moral choice is to pool resources to fund community needs.

“If we come together to do things — whether that’s building roads, or hospitals, or schools, or anything worth doing — that requires us to invest in each other,” he said.

That said, he wants a system where payment is based on ability to pay, so that a 25-year-old fresh out of college would not be paying the same rate as a tech millionaire.

“Every time we propose a progressive tax reform idea, Tim Eyman comes out and tries to get it shot down … Anything that’s based on ability to pay, the Right wing comes in and says, ‘Nope, gotta shoot that down,” he said.

Dori said this is because tax reform often includes a plan to introduce a new tax, without getting rid of other taxes to make up for it. Every new tax, Dori said, just ends up skyrocketing to high rates and, eventually, hitting the working class the hardest.

The valuation question aside, Villeneuve suggested that voters look at the I-976 Fiscal Impact Statement and No On 976’s impact page to see all of the areas of funding that would be affected before making a decision.

“It’s taking money that we already approved, whether as voters or as legislators on a bipartisan basis, it’s ripping that funding away, and it’s leaving communities all over the state high and dry,” he said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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