The Bellevue City Council deadlocked 3 to 3 on whether to make an endorsement for or against Iniatitive 1125, which would require the state legislature to vote on rises in tolls and would earmark toll money and gas tax money for transportation projects.
The measure also would have the potential to block Sound Transit's planned use of Interstate 90 lanes for Link light rail -- which is a vital part of Sound Transit's East Link plan, supporters and opponents both say.
The issue of whether to take a stance on the measure could be addressed against at next week's city council meeting.
The city council held a limited public hearing on whether it should take a position on the issue, with 15 minutes on each side. Three people testified -- initiative sponsor Tim Eyman in favor of the inititative and state Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) and Patrick Bannon, speaking on behalf of the Bellevue Downtown Association, encouraging the city to take a stance against it.
Supporters say the portion of the initiative that could block light rail from crossing Interstate 90 is section 3, which states:
State government, the department of transportation, and other agencies may not transfer or use gas-tax-funded or toll-funded lanes on state highways for non-highway purposes.
City councilman Grant Degginger challenged Eyman on whether or not intiatitive supporters adequately informed voters that the measure could affect the future of light rail on the Eastside. Degginger pointed out that the initiative literature doesn't mention the potential impact to Link light rail.
"This is a statewide policy that wouldn't just apply to I-90," Eyman said. "We're trying to make a basic proposition that's consistent with the 18th Amendment that if you build a gas-tax-funded lane or a toll-funded lane, you can only use it for highway purposes."
Eyman said that voters support the concept of limiting the highways to vehicles.
"I think it is actually pretty striking how well people (are) informed on the gas tax and how it's always been used for highway purposes, which means carrying cars, carrying buses, carrying motorcycles," Eyman said. "Everyone understands those are protections under our Constitution and we think everyone should have to abide by the Constitution."
"A voter who voted on the light rail project would not necessarily see that there is a prohibition on using I-90 for light rail, specifically," Degginger said.
"I think if the court isn't going to rule on it, I think the voters should have a chance to rule on it," Eyman said. "We believe it is a positive aspect of the initiative that people will like."
Mayor Don Davidson, Deputy Mayor Conrad Lee and Councilman Kevin Wallace said that the city should not take a stance on the issue.
Lee said that the state should come up with a tolling system instead of the approval system that exists now and added that it was confusing whether the state's purpose for tolls was to control traffic or to raise revenue.
"I believe that (Initiative 1125) is an issue for the public to decide," Lee said. "I believe that it's not my job to persuade the public. They're just as competent as I am to make the choices."
Council members Degginger, Claudia Balducci and John Chelminiak argued that the city should take a stance against the measure, because of the potential damage to the funding of replacing the State Route 520 bridge and a passage in the bill that could prevent Sound Transit from using lanes of Interstate 90 for light rail.
Councilwoman Jennifer Robertson was not present during the regular meeting.
Councilwoman Balducci said that the city has taken stances on previous statewide measures and initiatives that have had an impact to Bellevue.
"We take a position, because we know at this dais, because we know better than many many people, not everybody but better than many people because we spend so a ton of time on these issues what the impacts of various decisions are going to be on the city," Balducci said. "I think it's absolutely our role as elected leaders, if we truly are to be leaders, to give that information to the public and we absolutely should take a position on it."
Degginger argued after the public hearing that the Initiative was trying to sneak a vote on light rail without informing voters that's what they're voting for.
"What I am troubled by, more than anything, is how sneaky this thing is and it really bothers me. If you're going to kill (light rail) at least have the courage to say so in your literature. I mean, that is beyond the pale. They are trying to pull the wool over the voters' eyes," Degginger said. "It's obviously trying to nullify the light rail vote but we don't even tell them that."
Wallace spoke in favor of the measure, but said the city should not take a stance either way.
"The lack of accountability for one is really sticking in my craw, because this is precisely the problem we have with the Sound Transit board," Wallace said.
"I think at the end of the day, while nothing is perfect, this to me sets some reasonable limits on it. So personally, I would be supportive of 1125. From a city perspective, I think it's a different hat and a little bit different perspective. From that standpoint, I think it makes sense to simply not take a position and let the voters make up their mind," Wallace said.
The video of the council session is on the Bellevue TV website. The website has an option to skip to the 1125 hearing, which was at the end of the meeting.