Referendum 49 Costly, Wrong Approach

REFERENDUM 49 should be soundly defeated by the taxpaying voters Nov. 3. Why? It is a bad, poorly thought out, costly proposal that is the wrong approach and politically inspired.

The article by Dale Foreman, chairman of the Washington state Republican Party, Aug. 25 in The Seattle Times, touted R-49 as the no-cost answer to all our road problems. Referendum 49 is without question one of the poorest excuses and recommendations for solving the state's road-repair problems among the many that have been proposed for years.

It is an approach that is improperly financed because it basically uses a credit-card (borrow the money) concept to the tune of $1.9 billion. The entire scheme would be an initial amount of $2.4 billion with several sources of revenue to underwrite it, plus interest that's estimated to be $3 billion to $5 billion!

A major concern to the state's overburdened taxpayers should be the word "bonds" because this is how $1.9 billion of the money would be raised. Remember the bottom line - taxpayers will underwrite the total amount.

This is not a $2.4 billion program - it's a $4 billion shuffle when all the components become part of the formula.

The scenario is as follows:

-- Authorize bonds.

-- Take all motor-vehicle excise taxes (MVET) from the general fund. (MVET taxes are one of the fastest-growing sources of money for the general fund at the present time, according to a report by the Fiscal Policy Center, University of Washington.)

-- Circumvent the 601 state spending limit by proposing a one-year exemption. (It's called the nose of the camel under the tent.)

-- Come back to the taxpayer in five years or less and ask for more money to support a poorly devised program that should never have started in the first place.

When you examine the entire recommendation it meets all the requirements of the old shell game. Follow the shells, folks, but hold on to your wallet because that's where the action is going to be.

The need for Referendum 49 is touted as a solution to road construction and improvement, but only a little more than 50 percent of the money would be spent on roads. The remainder covers about every conceivable program at the state, county, city and normal taxing-district levels.

It's lollipopland and that is a typical politician-bureaucratic approach.

Thoroughly read and analyze the R-49 proposal to see how misleading the explanation and application of funds would be. There are 12 other accounts that receive allocations and several are not even related to road construction and repair.

One of the most revolting sections of R-49 is the $30-per-vehicle reduction in the vehicle excise tax. This "bribe" isn't a reduction, it is an insult to vehicle owners in the state who are already paying a confiscatory license-tab cost that is completely disproportionate to comparable costs in our sister state of Oregon and many other states as well.

And to add injury to this insult, the existing out-of-sight motor-vehicle excise taxes are not now being used as they should be. They haven't been for years. Seventy-eight percent goes in the general fund, 8 percent to criminal justice and 14 percent to the Department of License and the Department of Transportation.

Vehicle transportation is one of the basic services that should be provided to the citizens of Washington. Simply stated, cars are made to run on roads, roads are constructed for cars to travel on, taxes on cars should be dedicated to freeways, highways and infrastructure construction and maintenance.

We are not now using these dollars for these purposes. It basically goes into the general fund for distribution to the many programs that are being poorly administered and should be financed by the bottom-line user.

How bad can R-49 be? It gets worse.

You have to remember politicians do three things extremely well: tax, spend and get re-elected. Their formula is pie-in-the-sky and sells the sizzle but does not provide any steak. It's time to change the formula.


-- Is bad legislation and fiscal policy

-- Borrows money that will give five or less years of projects, but requires 25 years to pay it off.

-- Burdens future generations with unwarranted debt.

-- Allows the camel's nose to get under the 601 spending limit.

-- Continues a grossly unfair motor-vehicle excise tax.

-- Is shortsighted.

Wynn Cannon is chairman of the League of Washington Taxpayers. He lives in Bellevue.