POULSBO — It could become one of the most contentious ballot measures in the general election, and the Poulsbo City Council has opted to stay out of the fray.
In a split decision, the council decided this week to forgo taking a position on statewide transportation package Referendum 51. The measure, passed by the legislature last year and facing voters this November, would spend $7.7 billion on a specific list of transportation fixes statewide including highways, ferries, transit and rail.
The money would be raised by a number of added taxes, including a 9-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, a 1 percent increase in vehicle sales tax, weight fee increases for trucks and bond authorization.
Earlier in the year, after the package was approved by the legislature to go to the voters, Gov. Gary Locke urged Washington cities to come out in support of the measure. Several cities have followed this suit, including Bellevue and Seattle.
Last month, the Poulsbo City Council decided to hold a forum on the issue, with the intent of possibly taking a formal position on the referendum. City Clerk Karol Jones was asked to invite speakers from parties for and against the measure, which is council policy when taking a position on ballot measures.
Jones reported back to the council this week that she had been unable to secure a speaker for the “no on 51” side despite repeated attempts to contact someone.
Councilman Dale Rudolph supported moving ahead with setting a date for a forum. He said the city could always cancel if no opposing voices were found, or that the council could still hold the forum simply for the purpose of educating its members.
“The only reason we need pro and con speakers is if we were going to take a stand,” Rudolph explained. “I think it’s way too important an issue not to talk about it. As long as we don’t take a position there’s no risk for us.”
“Can’t we hold it without a no speaker?” Councilman Jeff McGinty asked. “I mean, if they don’t want to come down here that’s their prerogative.”
Councilwoman Jackie Aitchison added that she did not feel comfortable holding a forum where there was no guarantee that one side of the issue would be represented.
“As a council member, to make an informed decision I need to hear both pro and con statements,” she said.
Councilman Mike Regis agreed. During last month’s discussion, he said he did not support the idea of holding a forum at all and reiterated the fact again this week.
“I think the public should decide this on their own, why would we want to spend time and talent on this?” Regis said.