Washington Transportation Improvements, Referendum 51 (2002)

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The Washington Transportation Improvements Act also known as Referred Bill 51, was on the November 5, 2002 ballot in the State of Washington as a legislatively-referred state statute, where it was defeated. This bill would have increased fuel excise taxes, sales tax on vehicles, and weight fees on trucks/large vehicles to fund improvements in Washington's transportation infrastructure.

Election results

Washington Referred Bill 51 (2002)
ResultVotesPercentage
Defeatedd No1,080,58061.56%
Yes 674,724 38.44%

Election results via the Washington Secretary of State.[1]

Text of the measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[2]

The Legislature has passed House Bill No. 2969, financing transportation improvements through transportation fees and taxes. This bill would increase highway capacity, public transportation, passenger and freight rail, and transportation financing accountability through increased fuel excise taxes, sales taxes on vehicles, and weight fees on trucks and large vehicles.

Should this Bill be approved or rejected?[3]

Support

Arguments in favor

These arguments in support appeared in the official State of Washington Voter Guide:[4]

2,037 “HIGH ACCIDENT” LOCATIONS—950 BRIDGES NEED REPAIR—FIX DANGEROUS ROADS/BRIDGES— RELIEVE TRAFFIC CHOKEPOINTS

The state Department of Transportation identified 2,037 “High Accident” locations where improvements will save lives. 950 bridges in danger of significant damage in the next earthquake require retrofits. And traffic congestion takes too big a toll on our nerves, pocketbooks and economy. In Central Puget Sound, one of the most congested areas nationwide, rush hour drivers waste $1,605 and 82 hours in traffic every year. The price tag statewide? $2 billion annually. Washington’s Competitiveness Council says gridlock is the huge obstacle in attracting and keeping jobs and employers.

THE LONGER WE WAIT TO FIX OUR TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM, THE MORE EXPENSIVE IT’LL GET

...and the more dangerous and congested our roads will get. R-51 won’t solve all these transportation problems, but it’ll help fix the most dangerous roads and bridges, improve street safety near schools and relieve traffic chokepoints. R-51 funds a high priority list of safety and traffic relief projects on our roads, bridges, rail and public transportation systems — in every part of the state.

HOLD GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE TO TAXPAYERS— MAKE SURE THEY SPEND OUR TAXES PROPERLY AND PRODUCE RESULTS

R-51 has checks and balances to track revenues and project delivery from start to finish. Revenues must be deposited into transportation-only accounts. The State Constitution requires gas tax revenues be spent only on highway improvements. R-51 requires mandatory audits to track reveenues and the delivery of improvements from start to finish — with all of it reported to taxpayers.

STATE TROOPERS, FIREFIGHTERS, BUSINESS, LABOR, SHERIFFS, GOVERNOR GARY LOCKE, FORMER SENATOR SLADE GORTON: “R-51: YES!”

A “yes” vote is recommended by a statewide, bipartisan coalition that includes the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, Seismological Society of America, Firefighters, Association of Washington Business, Washington State Labor Council, agriculture and seniors.

For more information, call 206.352.8255 or visit www.YesonR51.com.

Rebuttal of Statement Against

Washington has some very dangerous, congested roads. Opponents say “wait” to do anything about them. But the longer we wait to fix them, the more expensive it’ll be, and the more dangerous our roads will get. R-51 won’t solve all our problems, but it’ll help fix the most dangerous ones, repair and maintain roads and bridges, relieve traffic chokepoints and expand public transportation. Vote yes on safer roads, traffic relief and accountability. Yes on R-51.[3]

Supporters

The following individuals signed the argument in support of Referred Bill 51 in the State of Washington's official voter guide:

  • Bob Thurston, President, Washington State Patrol Troopers Association
  • Stanley E. Miller, President, Inland Automobile Association
  • Kelly Fox, President, Washington State Council of Fire Fighters
  • Mike Amos, President, Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs
  • Don Brunell, President, Association of Washington Business
  • Judy A. Hedden, President, League of Women Voters of Washington

Opposition

Arguments against

These arguments in opposition appeared in the official State of Washington Voter Guide:[5]

R-51 IS FINANCIALLY IRRESPONSIBLE AND POORLY PLANNED

R-51 starts dozens of new road construction projects it can’t finish without multiple future tax increases. Just completing R-51’s seven largest projects would require four more tax increases the size of R-51, according to Department of Transportation data. Most R-51 projects do not have realistic budgets or plans.

REFERENDUM 51 HAS THE WRONG APPROACH AND THE WRONG PRIORITIES -- NEGLECTING TRANSPORTATION CHOICES, SAFETY, AND MAINTENANCE

For example, in King County, 93% of R-51 money goes toward highways, but only 7% to buses and vanpools. R-51 tries to “build our way out of congestion” with new highways, instead of improving transit and fixing existing roads. This approach doesn’t work.

LESS THAN 10% OF R-51’s MONEY WOULD BE SPENT ON SEISMIC SAFETY AND MAINTENANCE

R-51 neglects critical safety and maintenance needs. It spends billions to start new freeways before completing vital safety and maintenance projects like repairing crumbling bridges and viaducts before they collapse. We need highway improvements, but neglecting safety and maintenance is foolish. We can’t afford to waste billions on low priority projects that don’t solve our problems when the state, particularly rural Washington, is struggling economically.

R-51 IS THE WRONG WAY TO SOLVE TRAFFIC PROBLEMS—THERE IS A BETTER ALTERNATIVE

The coalition opposing R-51, Citizens for Real Transportation Solutions, proposes a more effective alternative:

  1. Make safety and maintenance the highest priority;
  2. Improve mass transit, and add innovations like discounted bus passes, telecommuting and other incentives to reduce traffic;
  3. Invest in “smart road” projects like completing HOV lanes and fixing chokepoints, and efficiencies like better signal timing and rapid-response tow trucks to clear accidents quickly; and
  4. Reform the Department of Transportation to ensure our tax dollars are spent wisely.

Support a better approach. Vote “no” on Referendum 51

Rebuttal of Statement For

R-51 addresses fewer than 10% of these 2,037 safety and maintenance hotspots, funding new road construction instead. R-51 also neglects transportation choices that are critical to reducing traffic.

R-51 fails the accountability test: its projects lack realistic budgets or plans and cannot be completed without multiple future tax increases. We shouldn’t waste tax dollars on the wrong projects. Demand a better alternative now. Demand better priorities, financial responsibility and real solutions. Vote no on Referendum 51.[3]

Opponents

The following individuals signed the argument in opposition of Referred Bill 51 in the State of Washington's official voter guide:

  • Virginia Gunby, President, Washington Retired Citizens
  • T.J. Johnson, Alliance for Public Transit
  • Paula Del Giudice, Regional Director, National Wildlife Federation
  • Steve Fuhrman, former State Representative
  • Robert Pregulman, Executive Director, Washington Public Interest Research Group
  • Tim McGruder, Conservation Chair, East Lake Washington Audubon Society

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