Council takes stance against Initiative 976

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By John Larson
jlarson@tacomaweekly.com

During a raucous meeting on Oct. 8, Tacoma City Council passed a resolution in opposition to Initiative 976. Promoted by Tim Eyman, the initiative aims to reduce license plate tabs to a flat fee of $30. Opponents of the initiative claim it would cause harm by slashing funding for road projects and mass transit.

Several people testified in favor of the resolution. Hally Burt from Downtown on the Go urged the council to oppose Initiative 976, in part because of cuts it could cause to mass transit.

Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Tim Reynon told the council his tribe collaborates with other governmental entities on major transportation projects. Some are meant to improve safety for motorists going through tribal land, which Reynon described as “collision-prone reservation.” He also mentioned future plans for the extension of light rail, with a station along Portland Avenue. He urged the council to oppose Initiative 976 “because we have too much at stake.”

Carl Anderson said the initiative would hurt vulnerable individuals, such as those who depend on mass transit. Anderson noted he is getting older and may someday have to rely on transit himself. “It needs to be stopped.”

Eyman spoke in favor of his measure. He mentioned staffing a booth at the recent Washington State Fair in Puyallup. He said many people that he spoke to are angry because they feel that the government considers their cars to be more valuable than they really are, causing them to pay an unfairly high tax. Eyman claimed that the Legislature had more than two years to deal with this issue and failed to take action. This measure was originally presented as an initiative to the Legislature. He said a benefit of the initiative process is that it gives all the people a voice in the process. “At the end of the day, voters will make the final decision,” Eyman said.

Anita Gallagher from the City Manager’s Office gave the council a briefing on what types of projects could be affected if the initiative passes. Money raised through car tabs fund efforts from curb ramps to grants for multi-modal projects.

Mayor Victoria Woodards noted the importance of sources of revenue to cover the costs to extend light rail from SeaTac International Airport to the end of the line in Tacoma. The mayor said that if the initiative passes, it would be unfair to motorists because someone driving an old vehicle would pay the same amount as someone who can afford a new car.

Councilmember Anders Ibsen opened his remarks by labeling Eyman a “thief” and “embezzler.” Ibsen noted that several years ago, a group of students from a school in his district were on a school bus that crossed a bridge on the Skagit River on a field trip. Soon after, the bridge collapsed. Numerous bridges across the state are considered to be in poor condition and in need of repairs or replacement. Ibsen feels the “irresponsible initiative” would reduce funding for such efforts.

The council passed the measure on a 9-0 vote. Seattle City Council also took action on Initiative 976, passing a resolution opposing it last week.

Washington voters have twice passed measures that would reduce car tab fees. Both have been fully or partially struck down in court. Initiative 976 will be on the ballot for the general election next month.

Other items on the agenda drew many people to testify. One resolution approved another $50,000 to the law firm Keating, Bucklin and McCormack, Inc. PS, which is representing the city in a legal case against the GEO Group, which operates the Northwest Detention Center on the Tideflats. Numerous people used the resolution to demand that the city close the facility, which houses immigrants awaiting hearings. There were a number of shouts from many in the audience to “shut it down.” At one point, several demonstrators unfurled a banner in the council chambers. At this point the mayor called for a 10-minute recess to restore order.

Another topic that drew people to the meeting was a six-month extension of Tideflats Interim Regulations. Several used the occasion to voice objections to Puget Sound Energy’s planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. The council decided to postpone taking action on the ordinance until Nov. 12.

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