Thurston County: Local group to oppose road tax

OLYMPIA, WA - 6/3/02 -- Thurston County environmentalists have formed a political action committee to oppose Referendum 51, the transportation tax package that will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The No on 51 Committee, led by former Olympia City Council member T.J. Johnson, filed papers with the Public Disclosure Commission. It's the first functioning opposition group to register, although friends of former Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carlson have filed paperwork for what, as yet, is a leaderless second movement opposed to Ref. 51.

Ref. 51 would raise $7.7 billion statewide over 10 years, mainly paying for megaprojects in central Puget Sound, by raising the 23-cent gas tax by 9 cents per gallon. It would add a 1 percent surcharge on vehicle sales and increase truckers' weight fees.

Though it also would funnel some of the money into transit, rail and passenger ferry programs, Johnson and other critics such as Olympia's Carnegie Group say it will add lanes of pavement that won't ultimately fix traffic woes.

"No. 1, it's bad for the environment. No. 2, it's too expensive. No. 3, it won't work. And No. 4, it's not fair," Johnson said, cataloguing his complaints against the measure the Legislature placed on the ballot.

"I think we're disappointed there is a group in Thurston County that is going to be opposing this much-needed effort," said Tracy Newman, spokeswoman for Yes on Referendum 51, which plans to organize its forces locally in June.

"We believe that Ref. 51 is necessary to fix the problems that exist currently in our state," Newman said. "The people of Washington have a project list in front of them so they can see the direct benefit of passage of this referendum."

"Every county, every city will receive a benefit if Ref. 51 is passed," she said. "And if Ref. 51 does not pass, there is not another solution to fix this problem."

Johnson's decision to start a political committee grew out of a public meeting two weeks ago in Olympia where "there clearly was enough interest from enough people and groups with enough reasons that we thought this was viable," he said.

No on 51 Committee has a Web site,, and will start adding material soon, he said.

It will begin as a local grass-roots organization that could expand statewide as environmental groups begin taking stands on the issue.

"We are hoping similar efforts emerge statewide," Johnson said. "Whether we fall under the same banner or in a looser coalition, we very much want to work with others."

Meanwhile, the Yes on 51 campaign will continue raising money for a multimillion-dollar fight. Endorsements by major groups are piling up, including the Washington Federation of State Employees based in Olympia, Newman said.

Despite recent headlines saying he would head a second opposition campaign dubbed Citizens for Accountability and Results, Carlson said flatly that it isn't true. Carlson, the GOP candidate for governor in 2000, said he is happy working late afternoons as host of the "Commute with Carlson" show on KVI radio and only will use airtime to attack the initiative.

"Instead of asking a simple question, 'how can we spend what is necessary to actually reduce traffic congestion,' they did what they always do in Olympia. They gathered all the interest groups and said, what can you live with," Carlson said of Ref. 51's genesis in the Legislature. "It's a whole lot of money for very little, if any, return to reduce congestion."

Who will head up the CAR effort is unclear, according to Brett Bader, a political consultant with Madison Communications. Bader and another Madison employee, Jeff Davis, decided to get things started after hearing Carlson and another talk-show host tell King County Republicans that someone needed to create an organization opposing the referendum, Bader said.

"Hopefully it will prosper and grow and become a major thing," Bader said.

Also taking sides

In related developments, the No on Initiative 695 campaign also has filed as a pro-51 organization so it can pass along about $11,800 of funds left over from the failed 1999 fight against repealing car taxes, said John Giese, a consultant from the earlier campaign.

And the Carnegie Group, an organization that advocates ending the government subsidy of developers, has gone on record as opposing Ref. 51, Chairman Ken Filak said.

The group wants to see a statewide impact fee collected on construction projects that will benefit from expanded highways, Filak said.

"For the last 10 or 20 years, we have been stuck in old patterns of thought ... where we have subsidized this growth. We have not asked growth to pay for growth," Filak said, arguing that a better solution to the traffic woes can be found in the Legislature next year if people are told the truth about highway financing.

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