The Washington State Office of Financial Management is out with its analyses of three statewide initiatives headed for the November ballot, and the one that raises the most red flags—or, perhaps more apt, red ink—is Tim Eyman's anti-tolling Initiative 1125.
In seeking to put the state legislature in charge of setting tolls, Eyman is aiming to create a situation that is "unprecedented nationally," according to the OFM report. What exactly would be unprecedented about the situation takes a little time to untangle—but hey, Eyman's counting on us being too busy to untangle it, so we should probably spend the time, right?
Although Eyman casts himself as a champion of fiscal conservatism and economic good sense, in fact, according to OFM, his initiative would destroy the state's ability to issue road construction bonds—one of the more conservative types of investment vehicles—by taking away what conservative investors like about such bonds: The relative certainty that they can be paid back.
Specifically, it would destroy the value of toll-backed bonds, of which the state is planning to issue $1.95 billion worth in order to fund the 520 bridge rebuild. How? By putting the legislature—i.e., politicians—in charge of setting tolls, which makes them a wildly unpredictable revenue source. "Because investors in toll revenue bonds see the independence of toll-setting bodies as a critical credit characteristic," the OFM report says, "no other toll revenue bond issuer in the nation sets tolls subject to legislative approval." In other words, if the legislature is put in charge of setting our toll rates, our toll-backed bonds will be worthless because no one will want to buy them.
And that's just one of the problems identified in the OFM report.
Others include: Costly revisions to the financing plan for the proposed downtown Seattle tunnel (which currently relies on variable toll pricing, which Eyman's initiative would prohibit); costly revisions to the financing plans for improved HOV lanes on 405 (which also currently rely on variable toll pricing); and governmental bodies having to give back tens of millions of dollars in federal grants related to the 520 rebuild plans, because those federal grants were contingent on—wait for it—variable toll pricing.
In its dry, non-partisan way, OFM states that Eyman's initiative will end up "reducing [our] overall capacity to finance transportation projects."
Translation: This thing would completely screw up highway improvement plans that highway drivers are counting on, even though it's being sold as something that has the best interests of highway drivers in mind.
(In other OFM analyses: Initiative 1163, which would increase training and background checks for home healthcare workers, would cost the state an additional $31.3 million over six fiscal years, an amount that would be somewhat offset by $18.4 in increased revenue created by the initiative over the same period. As for Initiative 1183, the liquor privatization measure—Cienna is reading through that OFM report, and will have her take shortly.)