As discussions about a new statewide transportation package continue in Olympia, transit advocates need to make one point clear to lawmakers: transit supporters are the key swing voters when it comes to defending a statewide transportation package. Just because a package passes in Olympia doesn’t mean it would survive a public vote.
While transit supporters are the most likely to support new taxes for transportation investments, they are also the most likely to swing against a highway-heavy package. History has shown that when transit supporters are not happy with a transportation package, an odd coalition of environmentalists and fiscal conservatives (i.e. Tim Eyman) emerges to soundly reject it. This is as true now as it has ever been.
History bears this out. In 2002 Referendum 51 drew criticism from parts of the environmental community, failing in an incredibly lopsided (38%-62%) statewide vote. Three years later,
Tim Eyman’s Initiative 912 — which would have repealed the 2005 Transportation Partnership Program which on a whole made necessarily investments in safety, maintenance and replacement — was rejected by voters. While the initiative had much more support statewide than R-51, King County was the decisive factor in its defeat, rejecting it by over 161,000 votes.
The 2007 Roads and Transit package and 2008 Sound Transit 2 measures also clearly illustrate this trend. Full of controversial projects (such as the Cross Base Highway) and with strong institutional and financial backing, Roads and Transit was nevertheless rejected by 56% of the voters in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. In contrast, Sound Transit 2 passed just a year later with 57% approval despite a shoestring campaign budget and the looming economic crisis (see map above).
As currently proposed, the House transportation package looks to repeat the history of R-51 and Road and Transit, with transit supporters opposed to the package despite the dire funding needs of transit agencies. What transit supports want is important, but what they don’t want is equally important, and their ‘yes’ vote cannot be assured simply by including their needs in an otherwise unacceptable package.
Key fixes to the current proposal to make it palatable to transit supporters include:
- Ensuring transit agencies have a sustainable funding sources in addition to revenue sources for future growth, especially for Sound Transit;
- Increased state funding for safety projects, especially Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School;
- Robust local funds for counties and cities to maintain their deteriorating roads;
- Fully funding existing projects like SR-520 and SR-99 over new projects and;
- A true emphasis on the Moving Washington goals, particularly safety and maintenance.