SAN FRANCISCO — Washington has finalized its statewide ballot measures for November and they include a controversial initiative to limit tolls, the secretary of state’s office said this week.
The ballot sets the table for a battle over the measure, pushed by anti-tax and initiative crusader Tim Eyman, to curb the use of tolls and gas taxes. It also includes a state Senate resolution to buffer Washington’s rainy-day reserve.
The Eyman-sponsored measure would prohibit the state from diverting gas taxes and toll revenues to the general fund and would limit the use of tolls to the transportation projects they pay for.
“This measure protects our gas taxes and toll revenues from a legislative raid,” Initiative 1125 declares.
The measure easily qualified for the ballot, which required 241,153 valid signatures, according to the secretary of state.
The initiative appears at least partly aimed at stopping the potential collection of tolls on Interstate 90 to help pay for the construction of a new 520 floating bridge, where tolls are soon to be in place on the current span to help pay for the project. The state has only studied the possibility.
The tolling, which is expected to bring in $1 million a week, will be mostly used to pay off debt service on 30-year and 40-year bonds sold to fund construction of the new floating bridge, according to the Department of Transportation.
Some of the bridge bonds will likely be backed by a “triple pledge” of toll revenues, an excise tax on vehicles and special fuels, and the general obligation of the state, according to a debt affordability study the treasurer’s office released in January. The debt would likely carry Washington’s double-A-plus ratings.
The DOT has slated $2.62 billion in funding for the new 520 bridge: $550 million from the state, $70 million in federal funding, and $1.85 billion marked for future tolling and federal funding.
The project still needs more than $2 billion in funds. Tolling I-90 has been mentioned as a way to raise the needed revenue.
The other major fiscal measure on the ballot would shore up the state’s reserve fund.
The resolution proposed by the Senate would amend the state constitution to require additional revenue to be put into the budget’s rainy-day fund during any two-year fiscal budget period that has seen “extraordinary revenue growth.”
Any rise in general state revenue that is more than one-third greater than the baseline is defined as extraordinary in the resolution. The baseline is defined as the average revenue growth over five preceding two-year budget cycles.
The Legislature would be forced to transfer three-fourths of the extra revenue growth to the reserve fund, a so-called budget stabilization account. No change would be made to the Legislature’s ability to pull money from the fund.
However, the money would not need to be transferred if state employment growth averages less than 1% over the previous two-year fiscal biennium or if the amount would exceed the amount already transferred to the fund over the two-year period.
As it stands, Washington must send an amount equal to 1% of general state revenue into the fund each fiscal year.