Update 9:47 p.m.
A tax and fee package to preserve Metro Transit service is trailing badly in the first round of vote counts. "We will proceed with cuts," said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
The measure was behind by a 10 percentage points, with 55.2 percent voting against the proposal and 44.7 in favor. The measure needs majority approval in order to pass.
Dick Paylor, a volunteer in a campaign against the measure and a member of the Eastside Tranportation Association wasn't ready to claim victory. But he acknowledged that the chances of a change in the outcome appeared slim.
At stake is the strength of Metro Transit service and its ability to maintain or expand in coming years, as well as help for road improvements around King County. Metro has outlined a potential 17 percent cut in service that could include eliminating some 70 routes around the county later this year and reducing service on many others. Cuts at that level are expected to affect 80 percent of all routes. Metro has reportedly been collecting more revenue on the existing sales tax recently, so there have been doubts expressed about whether cuts would have to be that extensive.
Constantine didn't assign a percentage to the service cuts, referring instead to the elimination of 72 routes. Measure opponent Paylor said the county should be able to confine the cuts to extremely low performing routes and services, such as late night runs. He said there is no need to make cuts that would hurt commuters.
The 10-year countywide proposition calls for imposing a .1 percent sales tax increase and a $60 per year car tab fee to support Metro Transit and road improvements in cities and unincorporated parts of the county. There would also be a rebate program for low-income individuals which would return $20 on each car tab fee.
Supporters of the proposal essentially conceded defeat soon after the first votes came in. They didn't absolutely rule out the possibility that the voting results could change but they said their back-of-the-envelope calculations offered no reason to believe it could happen.
Constantine told a crowd of supporters, "The voters have spoken." Later, standing in a light Seattle rain outside Kell's Irish bar in Pike Place Market, he told reporters the tax package, especially the annual car tab fees, was something that worried voters. "It is a hard sell," Constantine said, "and we knew it was a hard sell."
Deputy County Executive Fred Jarrett described the opposition campaign as "brilliant propaganda" about Metro that neglected to take into account the agency's recent efficiency improvements.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray praised Constantine's leadership and the campaign for the measure, adding that transit and road supporters alike have work to do in Olympia to spur lawmakers to approve a transportation package.
Alluding to his own Olympia experience with winning approval for gay marriage, Murray said, "We will win, if not tonight, on transit, over the next few years ... We have no choice."
Paylor noted that, aside from concerns about car tabs or the idea of any tax increase, voters appeared to be signaling Metro to live within its means. He said voters strongly value transit but believe its subsidy is disproportionate to what it contributes to transportation overall.
Supporters of the measure called it vital to protecting Metro Transit from cuts caused by the expiration of a $20 per year congestion reduction charge on car registrations. Supporters warned that Metro cuts could hamper the region's economic growth, worsen congestion and air pollution and damage job prospects for lower-income families.
Critics had suggested that Metro might be exaggerating its needs, arguing that the improving economy is likely to create enough sales tax revenue to compensate for some of the revenue losses. They also contend that Metro should create efficiencies in what they describe as one of the most expensive transit systems nationally and drive a harder bargain with its unionized bus drivers. Some critics said the measure amounts to a taxpayer and driver subsidy of costs that transit fares should cover.
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