I’m not going to pretend that Prop. 1’s failure was merely a tactical one. Clearly, in the current environment a significant number of people are unwilling to vote for anything that includes new taxes, roads, and/or rail. However, in hindsight I think there are two narratives where the YES campaign, for all its resources, was unable to frame the debate:

(1) Sound Transit’s record: In many voters’ minds, ST is still the agency that got off to a disastrous start at the end of the last decade. There is extensive evidence that ST is no longer that agency, but the perception remains. A key question: is there a way to reverse it before light rail starts running in 2009? Will that even be enough?

(2) The cost: $18 billion vs. $47 billion vs. $150 billion. They all sound like a lot of money, but few of us really know what any of these mean in terms of actual economic impact and opportunity costs. I’m a big fan of the “average household” figure, which was $125/year for the ST2 side. If our newspapers were a bit better on providing the public useful services, they might have published a table indexing household income to likely annual expenditure. I suspect that these concrete costs would have been both more relevant and would have prevented R & T from sounding like the cost of a moon shot.

Any other communications problems?

6 Replies to “Prop 1 Post-Mortem”

  1. To be frank, I don’t think people believe ST is making an effort. It’s not like they can get 2000 people to finish the build out and start running next week.

    I would say that in this age of technology, ST should be more vocal on how ST’s projects are going. Not just on the website or ‘public’ television but out on the news or simple commercials stating “hey, this express bus route goes here, or Sounder has expanded service, or we have finished the latest ST milestone.

    It’s hard to say how to get 1 million people to regain confidence with Sound Transit but the only way for that to happen is for people to go out and see it and not just wait for it to happen……..

  2. One thing I noticed very late in the campaign was that, due to subarea equity rules, each county or subarea was actually funding its own mini-Prop. 1, which cost far less than the whole thing.

    The Yes campaign sort of got at this by targeting their ads to the different regions, but they didn’t take the next step and say, “Hey East King County, you’re voting on a $4B measure that gets you a wider 405 and light rail to Overlake. Ignore all that stuff about miles and miles of rails and roads in other counties, ’cause you’re not paying for it!”

    Prop. 1 tried to walk that line between being a holistic, regional plan and being a targeted, local plan, and it succeeded at neither.

  3. There was also an accountability message that the no campaign kept harping on.

    It was like “These are regional authorities that answer to no one and there’s no ability to do a ‘recall’, do you really trust them with your money for 50 years?”

    That leads me to believe if they came back with smaller sections, like 5~10 year plans that would work better instead of 20~30 year plans.

  4. Other missing communications?

    How about global warming? Seriously. There was no attempt to make a case on global warming with regard to this ballot measure, probably because there was no serious case to make. Adding road expansion to the ballot measure was a serious error.

    The Sierra Club had an open field, and they ran with it.

    The other issues raised are serious ones as well. But one can’t just ignore the global warming issue.

Comments are closed.