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Originally published October 31, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 31, 2005 at 10:23 AM

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Guest columnist

The conservative case against Initiative 912

As a critic of Olympia's tax-and-splurge policies, I've voted for every tax-limiting initiative that has come up over the past 10 years...

Special to The Times

AS a critic of Olympia's tax-and-splurge policies, I've voted for every tax-limiting initiative that has come up over the past 10 years. Upon sighting anti-tax soldier Tim Eyman at the 2004 Republican Convention, I shook his hand and giddily explained, "As a conservative from Seattle, I consider you my representative in Olympia." My thanks were from the heart.

I have publicly railed against Sound Transit, regretting its invention and urging against further expansion. I've voted against the Seattle Monorail whenever the opportunity has arisen and relish the chance to deliver the deathblow this November. So why would an anti-tax, anti-public-transportation agitator like me oppose the Holy Grail of today's local conservative movement, Initiative 912? Allow me to explain.

I voted twice for $30 license tabs because the vehicle excise is the worst kind of tax. It punishes me progressively based on the value of my car instead of how much I drive. While rightly trying to kill that obnoxious tax, the people of this state drained money from the agency that does one of the most important things government does: build roads. So when I'm asked to replace a progressive tax — the vehicle excise — with a user tax that supports the building of roads, it would be hypocritical of me to refuse.

A yes vote on I-912 is really a no vote on the very priorities conservatives like myself have been pushing all these years. We've been demanding roads, not transit. Well, now they're building roads and using one of the fairest kinds of taxes to do so — and we're going to try to stop them? Unfortunately, I think many I-912 advocates have not realized the hypocrisy of their dubious position on transportation taxes.

The 2005 transportation package — and the 9.5-cent gas-tax increase — was passed with support from about one-third of Republicans in Olympia, including highly respected conservatives like Sens. Bill Finkbeiner, Joseph Zarelli and Dan Swecker, who voted for the package because it includes projects not just for infrastructure-needy King County, but for all 39 counties. They voted for the gas tax along with an audit feature that will help enforce wise spending.

Moreover, the performance audits initiative, Initiative 900, is on track to pass this November, ensuring more accountability. Most importantly, conservative leaders in Olympia supported the gas tax because it provides almost $3 billion to address major congestion choke points and $279 million for frequent-accident locations.

I support the transportation package largely for what it does not include — lots of HOV lanes. Like most conservatives, I resist with every fiber of my being the liberal attempt to mold my behavior by forcing me into impossibly inconvenient carpools or onto buses that move as slow as molasses. You wouldn't know from listening to conservative talk radio, but in recent years the Department of Transportation has been focusing on general-purpose lanes, not HOV lanes.

That's what they're doing with the much-maligned 2003 5-cent gas tax increase, building 215 miles of general-purpose lanes and only 50 miles of HOV lanes. The controversial transportation package targeted by I-912 includes more of the same — more lanes for me to drive in and fewer HOV lanes for liberals to force me into. It builds 119 miles of new roads and only 15 miles of HOV.

While I find it hard to disagree with those who say transportation projects are bloated with prevailing-wage and environmental-mitigation laws, conservatives have lost those fights because we're outnumbered in Olympia. If we really want to address those issues, we need to figure out how to win back the Legislature and governor's mansion.

In the meantime, shutting down a bipartisan transportation package that includes accountability measures and gets to work building roads and reducing congestion would be horribly dangerous for the future of our state and damaging to the conservative cause.

If a post-I-912-era earthquake brings down the viaduct or sinks the Evergreen Point Bridge, who do you think people are going to blame? Keep in mind that the Washington State Republican Party has officially taken a position against its traditional allies in the business community by supporting I-912. It doesn't take a wild imagination to predict where the blame will fall if Washington suffers from a bridge- or viaduct-breaking catastrophe.

It's up to right-thinking voters to take a principled position on the future of transportation — and on the future of the conservative movement — by voting against Initiative 912.

Dan Sytman is a talk-radio host in Seattle. His show airs Saturdays from 6 to 8 a.m. on KTTH-AM (770). His e-mail address is

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