Island Forum: Support I-1125

I would like to give reasons for supporting Initiative 1125, “Protect Gas Taxes and Toll Revenues Act — Protect the 18th Amendment to Washington’s Constitution.” Tolls on I-90 are a major issue that will have significant implications for Islanders. As I believe tolls on I-90 will challenge many of the basic assumptions making Mercer Island such a wonderful place to raise children and age in place.

The Council has made statements opposing tolling on I-90. In a Sept. 26, 2011, letter to WSDOT Toll Division Director Craig Stone and cc’d to Representative Clibborn, Senator Litzow and Secretary of Transportation Hammond, our mayor wrote that our “City Council continues to oppose tolling of any kind on I-90 between I-405 and I-5.” I think Initiative 1125 supports that desire by limiting potential I-90 tolls in scope and duration.

Tolls on I-90 are in direct conflict with Mercer Island’s quality of life. That which limits tolls is in the best interest of Islanders. Why are tolls bad for Islanders? Inexpensive access to Seattle and Bellevue services and facilities is an important selling point of the Island. We can talk about buying local, but the fact is many services we demand can’t be sustained locally. Inevitably, our civil service contracts, negotiated under the shadow of tolls, will carry a “toll premium.” This premium, above COLA and other salary step increases, will translate to higher property taxes. Meanwhile, the specter of I-90 tolls will have a depressing or negative tendency on home values.

I-1125 keeps an I-90 toll from becoming an open-ended revenue source for many yet-to-be defined projects. Washington has a long and successful history of financing road projects from which it was collected. Like many successful road projects, I-1125 will limit I-90 tolls to I-90. As an Islander, I could endorse a finite I-90 toll to finance I-90 capital projects. Pay off the project, then remove the toll. I am fond of saying there are no unintended consequences; there are only ignored consequences. It’s an ignored consequence to think that if an inelastic source of revenue such as an I-90 toll is available for multiple uses, then the toll will be without end and without limit.

I am not necessarily practicing NIMBY’ism. State support for I-1125 continues to grow. The Association of Washington Cities (AWC) reports that support for I-1125 has grown from 49 percent in August to 56 percent in September. One reason for this widespread support may be the increased understanding that projects financed through revenue bonds, i.e. tolls, are inherently much more expensive than through general obligation (GO) bonds. I-1125 will not stop regional transportation projects. For over a century, Washington used GO bonds to finance road projects. GO bonds can be up to 3 percent points lower than revenue bonds. I-1125 doesn’t increase the cost of money — it decreases the cost of money.  I hope you will.

Mike Cero is a Mercer Island City Councilman.


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