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Pierce Transit tax failure a clear ‘no-new-taxes’ message to Legislature, Tim Eyman believes

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on Feb. 9, 2011 at 9:34 am |
February 9, 2011 11:29 am

Anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman thinks the failure of Pierce Transit’s Proposition 1 Tuesday is a clear message to lawmakers in Olympia that recession-weary voters still aren’t in the mood to pay more for government services.

Tim Eyman

Legislators are discussing and debating transportation issues and how to fund them, and Eyman told me last night he believes they should step carefully, keeping in mind the fact that state voters in November turned down a modified state income tax, nixed the fee on soda pop and bottled water and approved his Initiative 1053 saying the only two ways to raise taxes are by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or at the ballot box.

He sees the nearly 55 percent no vote in Pierce County on a proposal to add three-tenths of 1 percent to the sales tax as further proof of voters’ direction to lawmakers, he told me last night.

And he vowed he’d be at a hearing in Olympia today on HB1536, which could give public bus service agencies like Pierce Transit the authority to impose a “congestion reduction charge” of up to $30 for each vehicle registered within its boundaries.

Eyman calls that the return of the $30 car tab, a fee voters have previously rejected.

Pierce Transit last got a sales tax increase of 0.3 percent in 2002 after it lost car tab funds.

But whether the no vote on the transit tax increase in Pierce County in the all-mail election conducted Tuesday indicates a complete anti-tax sentiment is debatable. There were plenty of people – most notably the Proposition 1 opponents – who said the issue was as much about what they believe is poor management of the transit agency as it was with higher taxes.

Supporters conceded Tuesday evening that they have more work to do to make the agency as tightly run as possible.

Pierce Transit CEO Lynne Griffith said the vote results would be digested and analyzed by agency executives to see how the ballots stacked up in various areas of the county and get a clearer picture of what voters were saying.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, co-chair of the Save Our Buses campaign, pointed out that 45 percent of voters said “yes” to the higher sales tax. She sees that as confirmation of people’s support of bus service – even among residents who don’t use public transit in Pierce County. It’s a quality of life issue that people support, realizing that buses are there for the neediest among us and commuters who want to get out of traffic and take their cars off the road.

It’s too early to say whether the agency might come back later this year with an altered ballot measure, packaged in a way more appealing to voters, the two said. The News Tribune Editorial Board suggested such a measure during the campaign.

Pierce Transit board members will meet Feb. 28 to talk about what’s next. The agency’s proposed reduction plan calls for slashing bus service by 35 percent within a year because its sales tax base has been crushed by the recession.

CEO Lynne Griffith pointed out the agency has been locked into labor contracts that guaranteed raises, even when inflation was in minus numbers. The Amalgamated Transit Union contract, which represents the majority of the agency’s 1,000 workers expires this year. Transit agency leaders are looking for a 0 percent increase in 2011 as one of the ways to hold down costs, Griffith has said.

Already, Pierce Transit has cut or saved nearly $90 million through a series of moves since 2008. Those includes two rounds of layoffs, fare increases, postponing capital expenditures and other actions, Griffith said.

That’s all good but opponents of the sales tax increase want more evidence of the agency doing the job with the funds it already has before making the case for more money, said Peter Chamberlain, a Lakewood resident and one of the organizers of the No on Prop 1 campaign.

UPDATE: This morning state GOP chairman Kirby Wilber echoed Eyman in a statement on the Pierce Transit vote:

“By anyone’s barometer a ten point defeat at the polls is a landslide. I congratulate the voters of Pierce County who led a true grassroots campaign to stop the 50 percent increase in transportation taxes. Despite campaigning with a shoestring budget, community leaders and engaged citizens came together to stop the massive tax increase.
While the Republican Party believes public transportation is an essential function of local government, we must rethink transportation policy in our state. If a service is broken, throwing money at the problem will not fix it. Voters in Pierce County recognize this, and it is time the rest of the state takes note.”

Here’s a news release Eyman sent me late Tuesday with his take on the issue.

To: Our thousands of supporters throughout the state (cc’d to the media, house & senate members, and Governor)

From: Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, co-sponsors of  Voters Want More Choices, email: tim_eyman@comcast.net.
RE: Pierce county voters send clear message to Olympia: NO NEW TAXES — Prop 1 vote puts another nail in the coffin for $30 car tab tax HB 1536

A tiny 0.3% sales tax increase for public transit was rejected by Pierce County voters tonight (Tuesday) (55% no vote in early returns: Such a huge rejection is especially significant considering the No campaign was outspent 85-1 and a previous public vote on transit passed by a comfortable 8 point margin. The defeat of Prop 1 sends a very clear message to Olympia: NO NEW TAXES. Tonight’s vote in Pierce County against higher taxes for public transit also puts another nail in the coffin for HB 1536.

Tomorrow at 3:30 pm in Olympia is a public hearing on the $30 car tab tax bill House Bill 1536, the most arrogant, tone-deaf, ill-timed proposal so far this legislative session.

In November, liberal Edmonds voters overwhelmingly rejected (70% no) higher car tab taxes. Voters in liberal King County said absolutely not (55% no) to a tiny 0.2% increase in the sales tax to pay for always popular criminal justice. Then there’s the 64% statewide support for I-1053, the 56% rejection of the 2 cent tax on a can of pop, and the 64% ‘hell no’ to a state income tax. That’s 5 strikes against higher taxes.

We wrote about HB 1536 bill earlier, but it deserves further critique.

House Bill 1536′s $30 car tab tax ignores the voters’ message and politicians’ explicit promise:

* 1999 — I-695 said no more state car tab taxes or fees above $30 unless voters approved (passed and rejected by the High Court on single subject)
* 2000 — Governor and Legislature repeal state charges above $30 and promise “Regardless of the court’s ruling, $30 license tabs are here to stay.”
* 2002 — I-776 said no more local car tab taxes or fees above $30 unless voters’ permission was given (passed and upheld by the High Court).
* 2010 — 5 ‘no new taxes’ votes at the ballot box in November (see above)
* 2010 — I-1053 said there were two ways to raise taxes: get 2/3′s votes in the House and Senate or get voter approval at the ballot box.
* 2010 — I-1053 said it must be state legislators, and no one else, who must impose higher taxes and fees.

On this issue, more than any other, the voters have earned the right to be listened to. This same bill failed to pass the Legislature last year — in light of tonight’s vote in Pierce county and the 5 ‘no new taxes’ votes at the ballot box in November, it should fail again.

Best Regards, Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, & Mike Fagan, co-sponsors of “Voters Want More Choices — Save the 2/3′s”, Fighting for Taxpayers for 14 Years, email: tim_eyman@comcast.net.
P.S. There are thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, and special interest groups working each and every day to raise your taxes. Shouldn’t there be at least one person, one team, one organization that fights to lower your taxes? Please help us so we can continue our successful efforts on behalf of taxpayers.

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