A new Sightline analysis analyzes the impact of Initiative 985, up for a vote on this fall’s Washington State ballot, on eastern and central Washington.

Giant Sucking Sound

I-985 would draw tax dollars from vehicle sales taxes and transportation projects all over Washington State, and put that money into a dedicated account controlled by the state legislature. At least $582 million would be deposited into this account over the next 5 years, to be used to change carpool lane management, synchronize traffic lights, and other purposes.

However, our analysis of I-985’s spending priorities suggests that roughly 90 percent of this fund—more than $518 million over 5 years—would ultimately be directed towards Greater Seattle (King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties). Together, these three counties have:

  • All of the carpool lanes that would be affected by I-985;
  • About 90 percent of aggregate traffic congestion delays in the state;
  • Just over half of the state’s total population—enough to sway crucial political decisions about how state congestion money would be spent.

All told, Sightline estimates that Initiative 985 would siphon about $180 million from the rest of the state into Greater Seattle—or $229 for the average four-person family living outside of greater Seattle—through 2013. This money would no longer be available to the state general fund, where it would otherwise pay for local schools, law enforcement, and other statewide priorities.

I-985 essentially requires Washington residents throughout the state to make substantial contributions to a transportation fund that will mostly be spent on Greater Seattle roads. This raises substantial tax fairness and equity issues for residents of eastern and central Washington, as well as residents of small towns and rural areas throughout the state.

September 30, 2008