Do more roads equal less traffic?
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:14 PM
"A spokesperson for Tim Eyman's November ballot initiatives told a Bainbridge audience Monday that their passage would bring relief from property taxes and traffic congestion.But he had no response to opponents who argued that the the measures will not perform as advertised. There isn't more room to build new roads, said Willem Maas, an opponent of Initiative 745, which would channel 90 percent of all transportation money into road construction and maintenance.While proponents argue that the new money would mean new roads and less congestion, initiative spokesman Marcus Hoffman said he did not know where new roads could be built, nor how much it would cost to add the amount of mileage - 4 percent more than now exists - that initiative proponents say would have a meaningful impact on traffic congestion.The state has only built 70 miles of new roads in the last 10 years, Hoffman said. But he told the Review he didn't know whether that was because of funding constraints, or because of high costs, neighborhood opposition to proposed routes, environmental obstacles or other factors.And while Hoffman claimed that Initiative 722 would stabilize property taxes by limiting the increase in valuations, opponent Sharon Shrader, Kitsap County treasurer, said it would do no such thing.All that will happen is that the mill levies will go up, she said. Property taxes won't go down.Property taxes are computed by dividing the total valuation of a taxing district by the proposed budget, then multiplying the value of each individual piece of property by the resulting fraction.If the budget of the city, school district, county or other taxing district increases five percent and the total valuation rises 5 percent, the tax rate does not change. If the budget rises 5 percent and the total valuation stays the same, then the tax rate increases 5 percent.This initiative caps property taxes, Hoffman maintained. But the text of the initiative calls that assertion into question. It says the taxpayer is exempt from taxes attributable to valuation increases greater than 2 percent annually or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. But it does not limit the tax rate.Hoffman declined to say what government services he would reduce to compensate for revenues lost to the measure.The debate came at an issues forum sponsored by the Kitsap County League of Women Voters at the Bainbridge Commons. Speakers designated by organizations supporting and opposing the ballot initiatives gave opening statements and rebuttals, then fielded questions from the floor.There was no presentation concerning Initiative 713, which would criminalize body-gripping animal traps. And there were no opponents to Initiative 728, which would designate surplus state lottery money for K-12 education, nor for Initiative 732, which would require annual cost-of-living increases for teachers.Initiative 729, which would authorize charter schools, received support from former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Judith Billings.This initiative calls for public, not private, charter schools, she said. It lets those schools do away with a lot of the 'number-crunching' rules that the legislature has refused to eliminate.While Billings hailed the possibility of flexibility and innovation, opponent Catherine Ahl claimed that charter schools would do away with accountability.They would answer to unelected, unaccountable boards, she said. And some of the rules the charter schools could ignore are important, like the right of a parent to exempt a child from curriculum the parent finds offensive, or protections of teachers against wrongful termination.The most spirited debate, though, centered on the initiatives sponsored by Tim Eyman, the Mukilteo watch salesman who sponsored Initiative 695, which did away with the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax and required a vote of the people on any new tax increase.That initiative was challenged as unconstitutional by a number of entities, including the city of Bainbridge Island. King County Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf declared unconstitutional on several grounds, including derogation of the legislature's constitutional power to tax, and ambiguities about who would vote on what initiatives.The legislature mooted the tax issue by repealing the MVET. The constitutional challenge to the citizen-vote provision is on appeal before the Washington Supreme Court.Shrader warned that the property-tax initiative would meet the same fate.I would like to see an initiative requiring these groups that sponsor unconstitutional initiatives to pay back the hundreds of thousands of dollars the taxpayers will spend on court challenges, she said, drawing the evening's largest ovation. "