Opinion

Tim Eyman: I-985 just does what state auditor recommends

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, Tim Eyman, co-sponsor of the “Reduce Traffic Congestion” Initiative I-985 and head of Voters Want More Choices, a grassroots taxpayer protection organization, argues that the initiative would cost almost nothing and benefit everyone.

We’re very proud of Initiative 985’s congestion-relief policies. Carpool lanes opened during non-peak hours, traffic lights synchronized to optimize traffic flow, accidents cleared out faster, making it clear that people want “reducing traffic congestion” to be the top transportation priority, all without raising taxes.

They’re positive and important policies. But they’re not the primary reason we’ve sponsored I-985.

In 2005, voters gave State Auditor Brian Sonntag, Washington’s most trusted elected official, the authority to conduct independent, comprehensive performance audits of state and local governments by overwhelmingly approving Initiative 900.

In the years since its passage, he’s hired outside experts to learn how state and local governments can spend our tax dollars more effectively. He’s completed 11 audits, made 499 recommendations, and identified $3.2 billion in potential savings.

But rather than embracing Sonntag’s reform recommendations, Olympia keeps ignoring them.

Our primary motivation for I-985 is to show Olympia that voters don’t want higher taxes; they want government to spend more effectively the money they’re already taking from us by implementing Sonntag’s growing list of audit recommendations.

So we picked the performance audit on the state’s abysmal failure reducing traffic congestion as the cattle prod. Sonntag’s report on reducing congestion made 22 recommendations — Olympia ignored all of them.

I-985 implements common sense reforms based on recommendations from Sonntag’s thorough investigation. Requiring local governments to synchronize traffic lights on heavily-traveled arterials and streets — this single reform reduces traffic congestion 6 to 7 percent (more on this below).

Clearing out accidents faster — absolutely. Opening carpool lanes to everyone during non-peak hours — it’s what other states do and illustrates that increased capacity reduces congestion.

But politicians arrogantly refuse to implement any of Auditor Sonntag’s recommendations.

From Sonntag’s 2007 report: “Citizens have identified congestion as a priority, and therefore so must the Department of Transportation and the Legislature.”

Sonntag’s performance audit reported that 80 percent of citizens wanted “reducing traffic congestion” to be the top transportation priority.

Taxpayers pay billions in taxes and fees every year. They expect their money to strongly support the people’s top transportation priority — reducing the time it takes to drive our vehicles from point A to point B.

Sonntag’s audit and I-985 advocate getting better use from existing streets and highways while also addressing chokepoints with increased capacity to significantly reduce travel times for everyone.

Approving I-985 tells politicians that voters want this approach.

Let me put an exclamation point on I-985’s traffic light synchronization requirement. Every city and county in the state will benefit from I-985’s mandate that traffic flow be optimized within its jurisdiction, especially since I-985 provides state funds to pay for its costs.

Lynnwood is a national model with digital, minute-by-minute traffic flow optimization. I-985 guarantees that Lynnwood’s optimized traffic flow program will be available within the borders of all 281 cities and 39 counties and won’t require a penny of city or county funds to pay for it.

I-985 dedicates existing transportation-related revenues that are currently being diverted to non-transportation spending.

I-985 doesn’t raise taxes. Instead, it dedicates red light camera profits, a small portion of vehicle sales taxes, and “one-half of 1 percent for reducing congestion” for any transportation-related project (removes “one-half of 1 percent for public art”) to reducing congestion.

I-985 guarantees that tolls on a project won’t be diverted away from that specific project, preventing tolls from becoming just another pot of money for politicians to spread around.

And I-985 empowers Sonntag to track revenues and expenditures, helping implement I-985’s reforms and reporting regularly to the public on its progress.

Washington is the fifth highest taxed state in the nation — I-985 keeps us from hitting No. 1.

Opponents’ proposals force taxpayers to pay more. I-985 forces politicians to spend existing revenues more effectively, implementing immediate, cost-effective solutions.

Sonntag hired world-class transportation experts — their professional, independent analysis showed Sonntag’s reforms will reduce congestion by 15 to 20 percent, provide $3 billion boost to our state’s struggling economy, which benefits everyone.

Taxpayers are tapped out. I-985 tells politicians to prioritize, spending what we already pay more effectively.

Let’s tell politicians, “Don’t take more from taxpayers. Adopt Sonntag’s growing list of audit recommendations.”

Vote yes on I-985.

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