Tim Eyman’s Initiative 985 twists reality like M.C. Escher art

Viewing the latest piece of political craftsmanship from Tim Eyman brought to mind the incredible creations of M.C. Escher.

Eyman’s Initiative 985, like Escher’s famed “Ascending and Descending,” tantalizes and tricks one into seeing a fantastically impossible reality as absolutely very real.

Eyman’s measure paints a picture of a world of uninterrupted traffic flows, just as Escher’s print depicts lines of people going up and down stairs in an infinite loop.

Escher is flawless in his work. We know what he’s drawn cannot occur, yet he stifles our common sense with a perspective that seems perfectly possible. Eyman’s work is also appealing, from afar. Look closer and it gets unattractive, fast.

First, it’s built on a false premise.

He wants voters to think the initiative carries out state auditor recommendations given to the state Department of Transportation last year to further reduce congestion.

It doesn’t.

Moreover, the audit never examined the state’s efforts to end gridlock in 36 of the state’s 39 counties. Its critique and recommendations focused on unclogging traffic in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties — where congestion is the worst in Washington.

The result of Initiative 985 will be to suck money out of cities and counties around the state to pay for solving problems in the Puget Sound region.

This measure establishes a new state budget account for fighting congestion. The Office of Financial Management estimates $623 million would be deposited into it between December 2008 and June 2013.

Most of this money is sales tax collected on new and used car sales. Those dollars are now spent on schools, health care and nontransportation programs from the state’s general fund.

Sightline Institute, a Seattle environmental and economics research group, estimates 90 percent of those dollars will be spent in the three counties.

Second, Initiative 985 overrides local control and penalizes innovative communities by letting the state grab up to $40 million generated by red-light cameras in a handful of cities through 2013.

Thirteen communities catch violators on camera, ticket them and pocket the fines. Eyman calls the cameras a “cash cow,” and the “profits” they generate should be handed to the state.

This is so un-Republican it is hard to believe Eyman, a dutiful member of the Grand Old Party, came up with it.

Cash-strapped cities are tapping tax dollars to obtain the cameras and taking the money paid by lawbreakers for reimbursement. What’s wrong with that?

In Lynnwood, the cameras cost about $635,000 a year to run and will bring in about $2.25 million in 2009. That money pays for cops patrolling the streets, court officers dealing with the tickets and public works employees maintaining the cameras.

This measure places a target on the backs of cities like Lynnwood, Spokane, Tacoma and Seattle.

It’s not a pretty picture but it could be reality.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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