Debunking Tim Eyman’s I-976 whoppers: There is no multi-billion dollar surplus available to backfill I-976 cuts

From the Campaign TrailRethinking and Reframing

The last few years have been littered with setbacks and defeats for disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman. From 2016-2018, Eyman failed to qualify anything to Washington’s general election ballot despite half a dozen attempts.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office has been working tirelessly to hold Eyman accountable for his willful and blatant violations of Washington’s public disclosure laws, dealing Eyman loss after loss in court.

Eyman is counting on an electoral victory in November to revive the fortunes of his flailing initiative factory. He has declared that his Initiative 976, a measure that would gut $4.2 billion in transportation funding over the next six years, will pass overwhelmingly in all thirty-nine of Washington’s counties and even pass in Seattle, which has consistently rejected his destructive schemes for twenty years.

If we look at what Eyman has said in response to questions about I-976’s fiscal impacts, though, we can see Eyman’s not confident about winning in November. Why else would Eyman feel the need to lie about the extent of the damage that his measure would cause?

The whoppers Eyman has been telling about I-976 deserve to be called out and debunked.

For example, last week, when contacted for comment by television stations like Seattle’s KING5 and Spokane’s KREM in response to the Keep Washington Rolling coalition’s autumn kickoffs in Spokane and Seattle, Eyman dishonestly asserted that there is a free lunch available to people who vote yes on I-976.

EYMAN CLAIM: “With the state having a $3.5 billion net surplus and record revenues, politicians threats, lies, and scare tactics are particularly unbelievable and absurd… There is more than enough revenue to backfill any affected government program.” (Source: King County leaders: $30 car tabs would be ‘catastrophic’ for transit projects — 09/18/2019)

THE REALITY: Wrong. What’s hard to believe is that Tim Eyman is still making outrageously false statements like this when he knows he can be fact checked.

Then again, perhaps he figures if Donald Trump can get away with it, so can he.

There is no ‘net surplus’ that can be used to backfill the revenue that would be lost if I-976 were to be implemented. It simply doesn’t exist.

And the comment that Washington is seeing ‘record revenues’ is meaningless.

The Washington State of today cannot be compared to past periods using absolute dollar figures, which Tim Eyman sometimes plots onto charts and trots out in support of his incorrect arguments about ‘record’ taxation.

To draw comparisons between different time periods, economists use a metric like income or expenditures per $1,000 in personal income.

As OFM’s data shows, in the 1990s, both income and expenditures per $1,000 in personal income was higher than it is today. That means that the extent to which we are investing in public services overall has actually decreased. In other words, taxes were higher twenty-five years ago than they are today. Even if Eyman’s mythical $3.5 billion existed, it wouldn’t be enough to offset the revenue I-976 would eliminate.

The Office of Financial Management has analyzed that I-976 would eliminate $4.2 billion in funding at the state and local levels over the next six years.

The impact is even worse over ten years… Eyman’s favorite time period.

Sound Transit has analyzed that the loss of the motor vehicle excise tax revenue would blow a giant hole in its financing, jeopardizing as much as $20 billion in transit expansion funding that voters already approved.

Senior Northwest Progressive Institute boardmember Gael Tarleton, who serves as Chair of the Finance Committee in the Washington State House of Representatives, says it’s vital that Eyman’s false claims be fact checked so voters aren’t misled by his lies.

“Tim Eyman talks about budgets as if he knows what he’s talking about. He’s lying,” said Tarleton. “There is no multi-billion dollar ‘net surplus’ available for the Legislature to tap if I-976 is implemented.” She elaborated:

Presently, there are two main sources of transportation funding in our state: the fuel tax and vehicle fees, which are supplemented by tolls and ferry fares in specific corridors.”

Fuel tax proceeds can only be used for highway purposes in accordance with our state constitution. That leaves vehicle fees as the sole major funding source for multimodal projects that empower pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and motorists to get where they want to go. State-level vehicle fee revenue pays for Amtrak Cascades intercity rail service, keeps our Washington State Patrol troopers on the beat, supports freight mobility infrastructure, and vital services like vanpools and transit grants for rural communities.

If we don’t defeat I-976, Eyman’s latest scheme, countless essential projects will be delayed or canceled, because the state doesn’t simply have any money sitting around to replace the lost billions. The cuts I-976 would necessitate will set back our efforts to invest in safer roads, earthquake-resistant bridges, and higher quality transit by two decades.

Despite the confidence he projects, Tim Eyman is clearly nervous about losing this campaign. That’s why he is lying to the public about the destruction I-976 would cause when he does interviews with the press.

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View our I-976 Impact Map

Permanent Defense has created a tool for visualizing projects and services that could be lost if Tim Eyman’s I-976  is implemented. Take a look:

NO on I-976 Impact Map

We’ve also published a guide to the map which you can read here.

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