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As Prop. 1 falters, Metro fans ask, 'Now what?'

The electorate is holding out for a better transit deal. That puts the ball in Olympia's court. Time to resurrect that stalled transportation package.
Metro bus service is about to shrink.

Metro bus service is about to shrink. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

Greens can be forgiven if they woke up Wednesday with a post-Earth Day hangover, as deflated as a crowd of Mariners fans.

King County voters defeated Proposition 1, an effort to fund Metro transit and road repairs by boosting car tab fees and taxes. The defeat allowed Tim Eyman to take an "I-told-you-so" victory lap. "Car tab tax increases are an absolutely radioactive revenue source, voters just hate 'em," he said in a post-election email. Eyman had predicted that a fee increase had "zero chance" of passing.

It wasn't the kind of Earth Day Seattle expected.

In election night, the early mood at the Yes on Prop. 1 party (at Kell's Irish pub in the Pike Place Market) had been more optimistic. Deputy King County executive Fred Jarrett, who has been described as King County's "guru of lean", was confident before results from the first ballot dump that county voters weren't "dumb" enough to reject the measure. Seattle mayor Ed Murray copped to a mild case of election night anxiety, a vague uneasiness in the stomach. After the first unpleasant returns were announced, Jarrett blamed the defeat on the "brilliant propaganda" of Prop. 1's opponents.

The "No" effort had some built-in advantages. To start, Prop. 1's chief proponents were publicly ambivalent about their proposal. King County executive Dow Constantine acknowledged at the start that the "mix of revenues" was not his first choice. Much better if the legislature had adopted a state transportation package and granted counties fairer taxing authority. So the "Yes" effort came out of the gate with a, "it's not perfect, but better than the alternative…" message. Not the best way to raise taxes.

The coming transit cuts will be bad, but few voters seemed to buy into the notion that a no vote would ring in a transit apocalypse. And opponents managed to keep Metro and the county tied up in knots, questioning how the system is run, whether it is efficient, whether it has kept earlier transit promises. Metro was portrayed as a bungling, tax-hungry bureaucracy threatening worse-than-necessary cuts to get into your pocket.

On the opposing side, the "Yes" messaging seemedy straightforward and plucky: "Save Our Buses, Save Our Roads." Late mailers to Seattle voters emphasized equity, touting transit for disabled  senior citizens and the poor. El Centro's  Estel Ortega said "Metro provides a pathway to the middle class…." Someone named Joan from Seattle talked about the benefits to "Older folks, people in wheelchairs and students across King County need Metro." Metro used to be billed as a green way for the middle class to get to work. This time out, it was a social service agency.

When it comes to selling transportation, do-gooderism is less effective than self interest. The fact is, the planned Metro service cuts are more likely to effect those who rely on the buses for general transport than those who use them to commute. Service will be cut for those who travel early, late or on weekends, folks who tend to be poor, elderly or working class. Buses will be fuller and less frequent, and many routes will disappear.

But the electorate is clearly holding out for a better deal. Proponents and opponents of the measure both said that King County is not anti-transit. Just look at the huge previous investments in Metro and Sound Transit. But both sides want Metro to be funded more fairly. Unfortunately, that means reducing service at a time when demand is growing; unfortunately that means the county must wait for Olympia to get moving. The defeat of Prop. 1 raises the stakes for what lawmkers need to accomplish next session in Olympia. And that raises the stakes for control of the State Senate, with some key King County swing races in the balance.

On election night, the Downtown Seattle Association's Kate Joncas, a major business community supporter of Prop. 1, made a face as the results came in. When asked her reaction to the apparent defeat, Joncas had one question — for the opponents: "Now what?"


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 11:28 a.m. Inappropriate

This was a very short campaign. The one oversized postcard I got was all transit. It did not say "in your area, there will be x thousand per year for road repair." It was really hard to know what the roads money would actually go towards. Potholes? paving before the roads turn to gravel? or bike lanes and road diets?

sjenner

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate


Everyone is surveying the “morning after” carnage. What do we see? It certainly is not this:

Proponents and opponents of the measure both said that King County is not anti-transit. Just look at the huge previous investments in Metro and Sound Transit.

Don't know who said that; it isn't true.

The “huge previous investments in Metro and Sound Transit” provide negligible benefits to the majority of people living here. Those excessive regressive taxing policies are precisely why the public became anti-transit – it is a function of how transit here is financed.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 5:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Traffic would be far worse without those two agencies. Your criticisms of the funding and governance are often well taken (if overly prolix), but your conclusion that they "provide negligible benefits to the majority of people living here" is flat out wrong.

louploup

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 9:22 p.m. Inappropriate

"Traffic" is of zero economic relevance to most people living here who are targeted by the excessive regressive transit taxation policies.

Go ahead: try proving your claim.

Quantify any benefits you think Sound Transit and/or Metro regularly provide to the majority of people living here who don't rely on government income directly (or indirectly from government contractors) and who don't have years of lengthy daily commutes to and from downtown cores.

Describe these "benefits" you think most of us obtain from those taxing entities. Buses and trains don't make most people here wealthier or healthier. Most people don't drive on highways during rush hours, and if some commuters with long commutes need an additional ten minutes to get to work most people could not care less.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 12:39 p.m. Inappropriate

If you eliminate transit as an option to get around, how do you think people are going to get to work and the myriad other things they do? Your argument makes no sense whatsoever--without transit the highways would be even more crowded. You disagree? Take the number of passenger miles served by transit and tell us what happens without transit.

louploup

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 6:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Carnage? I have a hangover and fat grin on my face.

Simon

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 1:16 p.m. Inappropriate

"When asked her reaction to the apparent defeat, Joncas had one question — for the opponents: "Now what?""

NOTHING!

NO THING.

It's completely in Metro's lap now. They have the ability on their own to raise fares. Or they can cut costs. Or they can cut service. This is completely up to Metro.

As a Prop 1 opponent, I don't see anything whatsoever to do. Metro wanted to foist its "problems" on taxpayers, and it appears taxpayers have said, "no thanks."

Solve your own "problems" Metro. Leave taxpayers out of it.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

You write as if METRO and the taxpayers are two completely independent and separate entities. They aren't. METRO is operated by King County government, the duly elected representatives of the community, you know, the taxpayers. METRO's problems are the taxpayers' problems.

How disconnected must you feel from your local government that you regard them as having nothing to do with you?

coolpapa

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 2:17 p.m. Inappropriate

@Lincoln,

I'm a big pro-transit person; actually worked for Metro soon after it was formed as a "transit information operator". We had a joke: "we tell people where to go and where to get off!"

Anyway, I'm in agreement with your desire to see Metro raise fares. The most expensive service to provide is peak-hour commuter expresses, and the twenty-five cent "surcharge" is laughable. Express commuters, both in the city and out in the county, should pay about $5.00 per trip for the convenience and comfort of a single-seat ride to work, avoidance of parking costs, and not having to deal with the execrable jerks driving the other cars. In most cases they can easily afford it.

And if they decide they can't afford it and change over to cars, well, then, you guys who voted against it will have an opportunity to repent.

Anandakos

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 3:57 p.m. Inappropriate

"you guys who voted against it will have an opportunity to repent. "

Why would I repent voting against Prop 1? I never drive anywhere during peak commute hours, let alone on a highway. So, peak hour traffic matters not to me.

But, you don't honestly believe that Prop 1 failing will have any effect on traffic in our area, do you? I find that laughable.

Community Transit cut its bus service by 37% and nothing happened at all.

Trimet in Portland cut its service hours by 13% and nothing bad happened.

The vast majority of King County taxpayers will not notice anything at all after whatever cuts Metro actually implements happen. That is just pathetic scare tactics from Metro.

What Metro is deathly afraid of is that they will have to carry through with their threats to cut service hours, and then everyone will see that nothing bad will happen. So, Metro will be exposed for crying wolf.

That is Metro's greatest fear -- they will be forced to carry through on their threats to cut service and everyone will see that nothing bad happens at all.

Bring it on.

Lincoln

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Crosscut: will you please report with challenge and skepticism instead of blanket acceptance of the inevitability of the county to hijack the taxes from us later?

How about interviewing people who voted it down?

And what does "earth day" have to do with it? Running a bus company, like a county government, is a very dirty job.

Posted Thu, Apr 24, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Amen.

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 2:31 p.m. Inappropriate

The failure of the State legislature to act is the reason we are in this predicament. Of course, people do not like the regressive nature of the funding being proposed. However, the legislature left us no other option.

Divide and conquer, that's the name of the game for the right wing ideologues in power and it's working!

The solution might better be a progressive tax system with corporations paying their fair share of taxes for the services they use instead of freeloading off the rest of us. Fat chance of that ever happening with the corporate ideologues in control.

There are a whole bunch of freeloading legislators who need to be replaced as soon as possible by representatives who will actually govern with the best interest of the people at heart.

nwcitizen

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 2:42 p.m. Inappropriate

You understand that the Sound Transit enabling legislation in 1992 was a pure-democrat product, right? It is regressive as hell, and unlike how anyone anywhere else finances buses and trains. The local government heads -- again, democrats for the most part -- pushed those regressive taxes incessantly. Same thing with the half-dozen regressive tax hikes from Metro since the 1980's. Democrats led those charges, and exerted de facto control over all the revenue-raising policies that transit services provider set into place.

There is no "divide and conquer" -- it is democrats authorizing and implementing abusive taxing practices in the name of transit. The "corporate ideologues" who have set transit taxing policy here include Chopp, Murray and Clibborn, and locally Nickels, Constantine and Phillips.

Why haven't they obtained and used the moderate and progressive revenue raising devices for buses and trains the peers employ? Because their strings are pulled by lobbyists for Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon. Full stop.

Let me guess, "nwcitizen" -- you have absolutely no idea about the extent of the regressive taxing scheme Sound Transit intends on imposing, isn't that correct? The dweebs who rail against "the right wing" around here always are deliberately clueless about what the democrats' taxing policies entail. Care to try proving that generalization incorrect? Go for it.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Apr 24, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

No, the reason is NOT the the failure of the Legislature. It is the failure of Metro on many fronts, including pleading for money previously with promises of certain service improvements and then in classic bait-and-switch style thumbing their noses at the taxpayers and putting the money where they bloody well please.

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 4:45 p.m. Inappropriate

With a more "progressive tax system" someone else would pay and all the discomfort would go away or would, at least, be concealed from us voters. The small businesses (some of whom subsidize their employees' transit fare right now) and the corporations then add that expense to the cost of their product and we can complain about price gouging.

kieth

Posted Sun, Apr 27, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

What objections would you have to lowering the sales tax rate and replacing it with a payroll tax that only larger employers paid? Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks could "add that expense to the cost of their products", but the people here would not care.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 4:46 p.m. Inappropriate

With a more "progressive tax system" someone else would pay and all the discomfort would go away or would, at least, be concealed from us voters. The small businesses (some of whom subsidize their employees' transit fare right now) and the corporations then add that expense to the cost of their product and we can complain about price gouging.

kieth

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 11:07 p.m. Inappropriate

My commute is 14 minutes to work and 21 minutes home. (And I bought this house while living in another state.) I looked into take public transportation and it would have been 10 minutes of walking, 90 minutes of travel time, 20 minutes of dwell and would have gotten me to work 20 minutes after my workday starts and left 30 minutes before my workday ended. If Metro or Pierce Transit were to cut service to our area (yes, for some reason we're serviced by both systems) I do not think it would make my commute worse, I think it would make it better - one of the biggest disruptions to flow are the buses stopping in lane to pick people up.

Even my wife who tends to vote far more liberally than me looked at that $60 per car and said "Forget that."

Tabs are a stupid way to tax. But we'd both be on board with a use tax. Want to live far from where you work and drive by yourself? Pay more than the people who work where they live. That's how you combat sprawl and create transit use replacement. That's how insurance bills - drive more, pay more.

tvjames

Posted Thu, Apr 24, 5:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Funny, I got that same vibe from Jarrett when I spoke with him about the Prop.1 issue prior to the election. I asked him for some additional detailed information about the collection and distributions of the Roads monies to the cities and he said "We haven't released that analysis because we don't want to set up a scenario of winners and losers." Because I expressed concerns about the measure, he immediately shut down and became defensive. He ended our brief conversation with "Well if you don't like it you are just go ahead and vote against it" Well, Fred a whole bunch of folks did vote against it.
How do you like us "dumb" folks now?

Will Crosscut be doing any investigation into the front group "Friends of Transit"? Will this region ever grow weary of the corruption?

Cameron

Posted Thu, Apr 24, 7:17 a.m. Inappropriate

A group already has announced that they will start collecting signatures for a property tax ballot for November in support of transit. Sigh.

Even though I'm a fan of transit why not just let the current vote stand and give Metro a year or two to see what types of changes they institute. That will allow the public to vet the changes. Maybe Metro will manage to make enough changes that, down the road, the public would then vote to bump up funding.

I could certainly do without the initiative process.

Lily32

Posted Thu, Apr 24, 10:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Because transit supporters do not want the public to see that the cuts Metro is threatening won't impact the vast majority of King County taxpayers one little bit.

This is what transit supporters and Metro are deathly afraid of -- that they will have to carry through on their threats to cut service and that everyone will then see that those cuts don't make any difference to them at all.

This is why transit supporters are so desperate to avoid any service cuts. Not because the service cuts would hurt people -- but because the service cuts WON'T hurt people. And Metro doesn't want taxpayers to find that out.

Lincoln

Posted Sat, Apr 26, 5:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Only the folks out in Enumclaw, Snoqualmie, North Bend will feel the real wrath of the METRO cuts. 60% cuts and the remaining service isn't worth having ( 9 Am to 9 PM on two hour intervals). They would be better off completely eliminating bus service, but METRO and KING COUNTY want the money and don't want to provide any actual service.

Cameron

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