Thursday, October 27, 2005

I-912: The Pony Initiative

Hey, kid, wanna get a free pony?

Every election there is what I call a "pony initiative". It's usually some faux-populist claptrap pushed by a special interest with deep pockets that proposes to give you the voter something for nothing, and to rescue you from the horrible duties of citizenship (usually taxes). It's a promise of free lunch. It's your shot at rebellion at the fat cats who supposedly run things. It's a free pony.

Sometimes these Pony Initiatives succeed (car-tabs) and sometimes people see through them to grok what's really going on (slot machines). This year's Pony Initiative is I-912, which will roll back gas taxes.

Sounds good on the surface? Sure. That's why it's a pony initiative. You vote for it, you get a pony. Just ignore the rabid flecks of foam around the muzzle.

Here's the deal. In a suprising act of actual governance, State Democrats and Republicans put together a bi-partisan highway bill that addressed some of the most serious highway problems in the state. It includes stuff all over the state but also the precarious Alaskan Way Viaduct. There was a price tag on this - a raise in gas taxes of 9 cents.

That's a hefty price jump, though mild compared to the ratcheting up of prices over the past couple years. But the bill dictates exactly where the money was going to be spent, and the Department of Transportation has shown itself to be very good of late at bringing projects in on time and under budget.

OK, it's the price of getting good roads - someone has to pay for them, right?

Wrong. A pair of local talk show hosts, already incensed over the fact that GOP candidate Rossi lost the governor's race simply because he got less votes, switched that anger (and that of their listeners) over to this obvious horrible excess on the part of State Government. Its an outrage to pay high gas prices (though the bulk of those recent raises have been going, uncommented upon, into the oil companies' pockets). All the money is going to King County projects (no it isn't). You don't know where it's going (yes you do). They campaigned hard for the initiative (so much so that a judge declared them an in-kind political contribution), and got a massive outpouring to get this measure on the ballot.

Its an "I Wanna Pony" initiative - I want my roads, but I don't want to pay for them.

And it stands a pretty decent chance of passing. Never mind that the corporations, labor,liberals, conservatives, and major Seattle media have all pointed out how utterly boneheaded this tax revolt is. Never mind that even the GOP candidate for King County Executive thinks its a bad idea. Never mind that the information is out there that shows were the money is going to be spent, and what the track record is. Never mind that doing this will make some of the most dangerous highways in the state even more dangerous while we scramble to find out out to fix them.

It stands a decent chance because, at the end of the day, it's going to be you, and you alone, in the voting booth, with the question in front of you. And you're going to hear a small voice, whispering . . .

"Hey, kid, wanna get a free pony?"

More later (oh, yeah, vote No on I-912)