Should you vote for Referendum 51?
Democrats say 'Just Trust Us' at Bremerton forum

June 4, 2002
© 2002 by Mary Swoboda
     D1   D2    D3      D4
o o o o o   C o o o o o        Seating
o o C o T   o o o S o D      Arrangement
o o o o o   C o o o o o
o o o o o   o o o o o R
o o o o o   C C o o o o
o o o o o   o o o F o F
D1=Kathy Haigh (D), 35th District
D2=Phil Rockefeller (D), 23rd District
D3=Pat Lantz (D), 26th District
D4=Brock Jackley (D), 26th District
C = Community members
R = Reporter
T = DOT employee
S = Legislative staff
D = Democrat caucus staff
F = Ferry employee
Outnumbered two to one by politicians, their staff and state employees, five community members attended the Washington State Transportation forum in Bremerton on June 4 to get a lesson in transportation funding. Representative Kathy Haigh of the 35th Legislative District said what is good for the state overall will benefit all of us. “If [you] only look at what Kitsap [County] gets or what Mason [County] gets or what my city gets, you will fall far short of the vision I think people need to have and what I'm trying to present here today,” she stated as the meeting began.
Referendum 51 will raise taxes for transportation “investments” in three ways.
There will be a 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase in January 2003, with another 4-cent increase in January 2004.
In addition, there will be a 30% increase in gross weight fee for vehicles over 10,000 pounds beginning in April 2003.
Finally, there will be an additional 1% sales tax on new and used vehicle purchases. This 1% tax would go to DOT to fund “transportation alternatives” such as rail and public transit.
Rep. Haigh said the gas tax increase would be very modest—for a vehicle that gets 18 miles per gallon and travels 12,000 miles a year, the annual cost would be “only” $60. What she didn’t say is these “modest” taxes will increase the price of ALL products, with the cost of staples such as bread and milk rising more proportionally than the cost of luxury goods. Trucking companies and businesses will have to pay more to deliver their goods and services, the cost of which will be passed on to consumers.
When asked what the ‘real’ cost to all consumers in Washington State would be because of increased prices on everything from food to clothing and other necessities, Rep. Haigh acknowledged, “There is no getting around the fact that a sales tax, or even a gas tax, is going to take a much bigger chunk out of the total amount of money somebody makes, especially if you're making less than about $20,000 a year. Finding the dollars from car sales to encourage people to move into public transportation systems somehow makes some sense to me,” she concluded.
The sales tax is regressive, “putting a tremendous pressure on people who make less money” and, in her opinion, the only way to decrease the burden would be “to have a progressive income tax that is based on some percentage of how much money you make.”
Answering the question of whether or not the money will actually go to road construction (i.e., pushing dirt and pouring concrete rather than paying for studies and administrative costs), a Department of Transportation (DOT) representative said, “As soon as the referendum passes there will be orange cones all over the state on the projects that are ready to go.”
Rep. Haigh added, “We're trying to be very specific about what those projects are and, yes, they will be pushing dirt.”
Audience member Carrie Riplinger said, “You talk about population growth, the ‘devastating’ impact of I-695 and how the gas tax has been unchanged for so many years. Washington State has continued to hire people, even in downturns, but nobody in business could do that and survive. Businesses have been downsizing and even the federal government has been downsizing for more than a decade. Yet Washington State has grown and grown. Baby boomers are retiring from the shipyard now. We're learning to live on 70% of our regular income. It's tough. What is the state doing to economize? When are you going to have enough of my money? Where's the bottom line? None of you representatives here have ever answered that. I don't expect an answer, but that's the question a lot of people are asking.”
Brock Jackley replied that Washington State is only about 19th as far as the overall taxation in the United States and, “if you took the Microsoft millionaires out of the equation, we would be about 34th in the country as far as the overall taxation.”
Audience member Luella Wells said, “I've lived in other states where taxation was very, very much higher. The only reason [Washington ranks high] is that we have so many multi-millionaires. We forget that in this state we do not pay an income tax.
Ms. Riplinger responded, “Oh, I don't forget that. I'm very thankful we don't because you guys [legislators] wouldn't eliminate the sales tax or the property tax; you'd just add the income tax to it.”
Audience member Frank Dare added, “It doesn't matter how we pay taxes or whether it's federal or not. We're being over-taxed. It doesn't matter if it's federal taxes or state taxes or local taxes if we aren't able to live on what we are making while big government is growing. Gov. Locke has hired 10,000 people since he took office, 2,000 more than...”
Rep. Brock Jackley interrupted, “Frank, you're quoting the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. There was a discussion on KIRO [Seattle radio station] about that and Bob Williams couldn't substantiate the claim, that so let's not go down that road because that's malarkey.”
This sparked a lively melee and finally Rep. Haigh admitted, “[Mr. Jackley] was out of line and I should have stopped him. We're going to move on with transportation.”
Carrie Riplinger wondered who would be appointing the members to serve on the committees that will monitor the progress of DOT projects, and how these committees will be funded if Ref. 51 passes.
Rep. Haigh could not answer the questions, particularly how the committees will be funded. “I don’t know,” she said. “I'll get back to you on that.”
Rep. Pat Lantz, wanting to end on a positive note, said, “We in the legislature make policy decisions and we appropriate money, then it is doled to the DOT to be spent. I think we should all be ever so celebratory on the fact that we have an extraordinarily capable man at the helm of DOT. He is the man of the hour. It's good to have someone who is able to communicate so well and does such a good job with his staff, and I'm just grateful for him.”
She continued, “If we are going to make any progress in this state, we are going to have to learn to trust, in some respects, the people who we elect and then those [hired by the] elected people.”
“If you don't like [Referendum 51] you don't have to vote for it. That's why we sent it to a referendum, people, so you could make a choice,” Rep. Jackley concluded.
Additional information:
  Washington State Department of Transportation
  REFERENDUM 51: Lesson in gas-tax increase meets grumbles
  Spinning Our Wheels: Tax Package Won't Cure Congestion
  Washington State is the 5th Highest Taxed
  Do D’s have the political courage to fix the budget mess?
  Property Taxes Continue to Soar
  Taxpayer Group Praises Gov. Gilmore’s Creative Solutions to NOVA’s Traffic Woes; Proves Taxes Needn’t be Answer to All Problems

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