For an off-year election, there's a lot riding on what voters decide today in Seattle, King County, and Washington state. An historically large tax levy is on the ballot in Seattle, as is new money for children's programs in King County and a new attempt to require a two-thirds majority for state tax increases, which could have enormous implications for the state's finances.
If ballot returns are any indication so far, these decisions will be made by less than half of registered voters. The Elections Division of the Secretary of State's Office is predicting 46 percent turnout of voters, not much better than two years ago (a year in which there were no statewide or congressional contests). But whatever the final turnout, the decisions will reshape the regional political landscape in important ways, particularly in Seattle, where council members will be selected for the first time under a new district system.
As the results arrive, here are six things to watch for this election day.
The State of Seattle's Insurgency
In his race for one of the Seattle City Council’s remaining citywide seats, Tim Burgess has been cast as the conservative in his battle against opponent Jon Grant. But that’s only accurate for those with a pretty strict liberal litmus test. What’s more accurate is to say he is a representative of Seattle’s traditional mainstream, while Grant represents an insurgent in the vein of Kshama Sawant, to whom he's closely tied himself.
Burgess absolutely crushed Grant in fundraising, from sources in the business world, progressive and labor circles, and elsewhere. Take independent spending for Burgess into account, and the race becomes even more imbalanced from a money perspective. No other race comes close on this front. Furthermore, Burgess has not been a weak or over-comfortable candidate. If the vote between the two is close, it’ll be a sign that fundraising prowess is becoming a less reliable barometer of citywide odds in the face of ideological shifts. If Burgess actually loses, it'll be as big a statement on money in local politics as the city's Honest Elections campaign finance initiative. - D.A.
Facing its Biggest Test: City's Dependence on Property Tax Levies
If Mayor Ed Murray’s $930 million transportation levy package passes, it will be spun as a continuation of the norm for Seattleites, proof that we’ll say yes to any new property tax. But if it fails, the implications are pretty enormous.
The most obvious fallout is the Seattle Department of Transportation losing about a quarter of its budget for next year, and being forced to shelve many of the department’s big plans. It would also prove the specter of “levy fatigue” is real, with serious implications for how Mayor Ed Murray structures the rest of his term. His office and the city council seem to be committed to passing some kind of transportation levy, and soon. That means either running a revised levy in a special election this spring, as Councilmember Nick Licata suggested the city might, or on the 2016 ballot. Either way, the housing levy the mayor is planning for next year would likely need to shrink, and his office’s plan for a public safety levy would wait for at least another year. - D.K.