Voters rejecting new money for transit; bus cuts coming
With Proposition 1 trailing, King County officials said they will proceed with plans for cutting as many as one-sixth of bus-service hours just as ridership is climbing, a scenario officials have warned about for months.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Proposition 1 results
The measure voters were rejecting would increase the sales tax 0.1 percent and enact a $60 car-tab fee, to be divided among King County Metro Transit and local road departments.
Yes: 162,508 45 percent
No: 200,887 55 percent
A list of transit cuts is headed to the King County Council this week, after 55 percent of voters were rejecting a sales-tax and car-tab increase in the Tuesday night count.
“There are no other options but to cut service,” said County Executive Dow Constantine. He said he will publish a plan to slice one-sixth of Metro Transit’s operating hours, including elimination of 72 routes. Customers on most other routes would notice fewer bus trips, or more crowding.
Transit managers have warned of this for months, even as ridership climbs to near-record levels of 400,000 passengers per weekday.
Assuming a voter turnout of 38 percent — King County’s pre-election estimate — there are approximately 82,000 votes left to count on Proposition 1 to fund transit and local roads. The yes campaign would need about 73 percent of the remaining votes to catch up. Ballot counting will continue Wednesday, with more results released in the late afternoon.
“The voters are not rejecting Metro; they are rejecting this particular means of funding Metro,” Constantine said. “We know the people of King County love and value their transit service.”
County officials said they’ll keep trying to win funds for Metro.
The 10-year measure called for increasing the sales tax by 0.1 percent, or a dime per $100 purchase; and enacting a $60 annual car-tab fee. The combined revenue, just over $130 million for 2015, was to be divided 60 percent for bus service and 40 percent among county and city street departments.
The total sales tax in urban King County will remain at 9.5 percent. The transit share of that totals 1.8 percent, plus smaller car and property taxes, which support not only Metro but a multibillion-dollar expansion of Sound Transit rail lines and buses.
The measure enjoyed massive support among politicians, labor unions, environmentalists, social-equity groups and business coalitions.
The Move King County Now campaign raised $654,922 in contributions, compared with $7,700 for the opposition, called Families for Sustainable Transit.
Dick Paylor, spokesman for the opponents, said he had expected the yes side to win, based on its greater funding and organization. But he said opponents benefited from news-media exposure, in particular Seattle Times editorials opposing the tax and fee hike.
Supporters gathered at Kells Irish Restaurant and Pub in Pike Place Market to hear speeches by Constantine and County Council Chairman Larry Phillips, who resorted to the ballot after state lawmakers did not act to provide other options.
The recession caused sales-tax revenue to plummet, leaving Metro a long-term deficit of $75 million a year, transit managers said. Several county roads are fracturing, and some rural roads are being left to turn to gravel.
Phillips said the vote means some people will stop taking the bus.
“We’re going to have more drivers on congested roads that aren’t in good repair,” he said.
Constantine noted that transit-union workers took a wage freeze in 2011, negotiations are under way on the next contract, and that Metro has implemented the cost-saving ideas from a wide-ranging 2009 audit.
Opponents argued that Metro remains among the nation’s highest-cost bus agencies, at more than $136 in operating expenses per bus, per service hour — and should cut its overhead and low-use routes.
Paylor said the message from voters is, “Metro’s got issues, and until they solve those, we’re not going to give them more money.”
A smaller bloc of voters simply detest car-tab fees, he said. Proposition 1 critics were led by the pro-roads Eastside Transportation Association and North Seattle small-business activist Faye Garneau.
Metro sales-tax measures won in 2000 and 2006, and Sound Transit won an increase in 2008. Proposals have benefited from green sentiment, as well as dense job clusters that depend on transit to thrive.
But a Seattle $60 car-tab fee, to be spread among road, transit, walking and bike projects, failed in 2011.
“Once again, it’s proven that car-tab taxes are an absolutely radioactive issue,” said Tim Eyman, a longtime initiative promoter. On the other hand, city voters did narrowly approve a 1.4 percent car-tab tax to build a 14-mile monorail in 2002, before turning against the project in 2005.
The yes campaign sent mailings and email reminders in the final days, underscoring concerns that younger, pro-transit voters might be unaware of the off-cycle campaign.
Staff reporters Paige Cornwell and Justin Mayo contributed.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@mikelindblom