Initiative 1125 is the Wrong Vision for our Transportation Future

Posted by Brad Smith
Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Microsoft

Did you know that only eight states in the country have a higher percentage of functionally obsolete bridges than Washington? The fact is, over the past two decades, the Puget Sound region’s transportation infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the region’s population and job growth.

Enhanced mobility across the region is an important local priority for Microsoft. With nearly 40,000 employees based in the Puget Sound region, the company and our people need an efficient transportation system. It is important to our own business, and it’s important to economic growth, job creation and the quality of life across our state.

As a company, we’re opposing Initiative 1125 on the Washington state ballot this November because it would seriously undermine improvements to our transportation infrastructure, unfairly eliminate options for commuters, and impact the state’s economy.

Tim Eyman’s I-1125 would change our state’s tolling policy in a number of ways. It would place new, often unrealistic restrictions on how, when and where tolls may be used to fund transportation projects. It would require politicians, not independent experts, to set tolling rates, making us the only state in the country to introduce political risk into its tolling policy. According to a report for the State Treasurer, this uncertainty would drive up the cost of issuing transportation bonds by about 18 percent, either leading to a further increase in tolls and taxes for Washingtonians or preventing much needed projects from moving forward.

I-1125 would also make it harder to build a healthy overall road network because it would bar the state from using toll revenue from one road to make improvements on roads that connect to it. And it would prohibit the use of different tolling rates for different times of day, and prevent the state from adding new High Occupancy Toll lanes, even though these have helped reduce congestion elsewhere. Put together, all this would risk stalling progress on much-needed projects across the state.

Of real concern to Microsoft, restricting the use of tolling to support transportation investment would put the 520 bridge replacement at risk. We’ve worked as a company to advocate and contribute to improvements in the 520 and I-405 corridors. We even operate our own commuter bus system, with 64 buses that carry more than 2,500 employees per day, taking 1.9 million trips off the road since service began in September 2007. The company serves on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Connecting Washington Task Force, which is charged with developing the next 10-year investment and funding strategy for our state’s transportation system. And we’ve helped pay for a large share of the cost of building the 36th Street Overpass.

In part, as a result, new projects in recent years have improved the flow of traffic for employees and families that travel from our campus east on 520 to Woodinville and parts of Redmond. However, the traffic to the west of the campus between Redmond and Lake Washington continues to be plagued by congestion and, sometimes, outright gridlock. Even worse, the 520 bridge is approaching the end of its useful life. It opened 48 years ago, and everyone agrees that it needs to be replaced. This is about more than congestion. It’s an issue of safety.

Last year, in part reflecting the active involvement of our employees in sharing their views with elected officials in Olympia, the state made important decisions to move forward with the tolling needed to replace and expand the 520 bridge. Construction has now started on building the new pontoons and on eastside improvements.

We believe strongly that the passage of I-1125 risks rolling back much of this hard-earned progress, negatively impacting both the quality of life and the economy of our state. As a company, Microsoft stands committed to helping advance improvements in the region’s transportation infrastructure.

However, Tim Eyman’s I-1125 is the wrong vision for our transportation future. Please vote “No”.

Comments (14)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think it would be fair to link to the actual text the initiative:…/i1125.pdf

    I admit this is the first time I've read about it but at a cursory glance it seems like the bill has merits. The theme is to provide protection against toll funds being used for completely unrelated purposes and being turned into de-facto taxes. It would seem that depending on the will of those who use the toll funds that this initiative could result in more money being used for the actual toll roads.

    I think this is a noble initiative, the details may not be perfect and have negative impacts on revenue for toll roads but I agree with the spirit of the initiative. As governments across America struggle for tax-revenue, do we risk increased taxes on drivers to make up for the shortfall?

  2. Mark says:

    There are far worse things than "risk(ing)increased taxes on drivers" – such as certain and continued traffic gridlock, which places a far higher tax in terms of lost time and money for anyone that travels in our region.  The spirit may be noble, but the actual initiative would be disastrous for this region.  

  3. Jeff25 says:

    I agree, the initiative as written seems to be an effort to enforce what's in the Washington State Constitution and limit the use of tolls and gas tax revenues for what they were intended to be used for.  What I don't see are compelling facts coming from Microsoft, Boeing, and others which support the doom and gloom stance being portrayed by those entities.

  4. Toly says:

    The argument above presented by Mr. Smith is irrelevant, Eyman does not argue that we do not need new bridges or roads (in fact he previously made an argument for even more roads). The issue is how to pay for the roads, how transparent that payment and cost is, and how easy it is for the politicians to add more taxes without people noticing.

    Seattle area voters have yet to see a tax they do no like. Toll roads should be BANNED. It is yet another way for the government/politicians to raise taxes, confuse voters and pit one group against another. Building a transportation system, including roads and public transport, is the PRIMARY job of the government. It therefore should be funded from a general tax. Every time you make a special tax, like tolls, you add confusion and argument on who should pay. If we need more money for 520, increase the sales tax, making your political decision transparent to the voter.

    Our state has a sales tax for this purpose. This tax, and this tax along, should fund roads, medic 1, police, courts, and all other primary government functions. Each local government adds its own part to the sales tax, paying for its services.  This allows a person to understand how much he is being taxed, and than make a informed voting decision on what programs to add to the government function, and what to leave out.

    Please vote for ANY law that make ANY new tax/toll/fee/levy, etc. more difficult or preferably impossible. Please vote against any law adding yet another form of taxation. Do not let the politicians add any more confusion to our lives.

  5. Travis says:

    Let's just keep in mind that we're not voting on the "spirit" of an initiative; we're voting on text as written.  If the details are not perfect and have negative impacts, then the parts that we DO like had better be pretty darned exceptional.  And we don't need new laws to restate our constitution.  That's what our constitution is for.

  6. Toly says:

    Travis and others,

    There is no negative impact. The projects that are/will be funded by this toll can be funded in other ways, so they do not have to stall at all. The only negative here is that there is yet another law that clarifies or enforces the spirit of the constitution.

    I wish the political discourse would separate the argument over a method of funding from the merits of whatever is being discussed. This will eliminate these type of initiatives.

  7. Ben Schiendelman says:

    Toly, did you miss the part where it would also halt light rail to Microsoft?

  8. N says:

    To the person commenting about increasing sales tax – This puts the state at the whim of the consumer, and right now consumers are spending less, therefore a contributing factor to the huge budget shortfalls we have in the state.  Additionally, Sales taxes are extremely regressive with the lower/middle income taking the majority of the tax burden.  (What we really need is a state income tax, but that's another argument) The truth of the matter is the 520 bridge has to be replaced, the voters has voted down just about every other transportation iniative, and WA's hands are tied.  Tolling works as it is targeted to the primary users of the bridge, albeit somewhat regressive as well.  There's not a lot of other options.  We need to move forward with SOMETHING instead of doing nothing.

    I envision those that don't want to pay taking 90 or 522 instead to avoid the toll. I am not sure what the reasoning was in only tolling the 520, likely due to the interstate being a federal asset.

  9. Toly says:

    Ben Schiendelman: Leaving aside the merits of the light rail system, how will this initiative halt light rail? It deals with the funding collected from tolls (how they are used and when the end), moves the responsibilities of assigning tolls to the legislature, and links these funds to 18th amendment. I found no mention of light rail system in the initiative.

    N: Again, this initiative deals with how to use tolls and when they end. It does not kill any specific project, just make the legislature, should it choose to use tolls, define the project for these tolls, and when the project ends, end the toll. This law makes it harder to raise taxes, and easier to end a "temporary" tax/toll/fee.

    My tirade against multiple simultaneous forms of taxes/tolls/fees, etc. applies no matter what taxing system is used (sales vs. income). The merits of one tax system vs. another, how easy it is for the tax payer to avoid or postpone paying of taxes, etc. are all good things to discuss, but not as it relates to this initiative. With this initiative becoming law, a toll designated for 520 bridge will not pay for light rail, and will not linger to pay for any other project that is needed to rectify the "consequence" of 520 bridge changes.

  10. S says:

    I will be first to say I don’t always see eye-to-eye with Mr. Eyman. And,  while I do need to dig into this bill deeper, it seems that this is worthy of my vote at first glance.  Like others, I see a toll as a de facto tax.  I also believe that we have the responsibility to utilize public funds in a manner that is efficient, effective, with oversight, and within mechanisms that establish transparency.

    I would be one of the first to sign up for a car tab, or other TEMPORARY tax to ensure that light rail has the appropriate funds to complete.  However, I am completely against giving the state an open inflow of funds to complete a project that was not in the original bill of sale to the public.  If memory serves me, the tolls for the 520 bridge were to build an alternative to the viaduct and the floating bridge (as was the “emergency” 9 cent gas tax our current governor enacted without vote).  I have had enough of taxes being enacted which don't have a sunset, and end up being utilized for purposes they were never intended for.

    Sometimes it amazes me that tactics that would NEVER fly in any business never even receive a blink of an eye when it comes to appropriation of public funds.  I guess I should pad the next project I work on by 50% and for 1.5 million so I can use 500K for somthing shiny and fun that will make me happy…  Kind of the same thing, right?

    At what point is this toll money not about transportation any longer?  What is to stop our politicians from using these same funds for pork projects without placing some boundaries around it?

  11. Hans R says:

    Reading the text of the iniative it looks like a typical populist Tim Eyman piece of work. As usual Eyman is trying to justify his continued existence and paycheck by putting the future of our state at risk.

    Let's hope the citizens of this state take the time to carefully think this through, weigh the pros and cons, realize the impacts and then decide AGAINST I-1125.

  12. Toly says:

    Hans R: Reading your comment, it is a typical rebuttal of an anti-populist opponent of a small government. Lets hope people have a better reason to vote for or against this initiative then a dislike or admiration of its author and his motives.

  13. Deb says:

    I like the idea of enforcement of the collected toll no diverted to non-transportation projects. Also that tolling will end after the project is completed.

    The cause for concern is the mention that tolling funds to be used for only the same highway from which it was collected. Does this mean that interior roads and also roads leading to the highway cannot benefit from the finds collected from the said highway?

  14. MARIE says:

    Hum, from that article here…/2016606680_danny26.html

    " It [Initiative 1125] also seeks to bar light rail on the Highway 520 bridge (assuming tolls are used there.) If I-1125 passes, though, it would almost certainly be challenged in court. But here's one thing that can be said for sure: Eyman's initiative would not repeal any of the light-rail taxes. So if voters in Bellevue and across the Eastside vote for I-1125, they will be rejecting their promised benefit — the light-rail project — but not the taxes they levied on themselves to pay for it."

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