Whatcom Transit Bus (wikimedia)

Yesterday was the mailing deadline for an all-mail election in Whatcom County to raise the sales tax by 0.2%, in order to avoid a similar story of deep cuts to transit service.

Early returns indicate it is losing by 247 votes, or 0.58%.  You can follow this story as it develops by checking out Jared Paben’s Traffic blog at the Bellingham Herald.  Election results from the source are available here.

I don’t know enough about the jurisdictions to speculate on why Walla Walla would have a similar measure win by 50 points, but it would be so close here.  I don’t mean to suggest the areas are at all similar, but if anything I’d expect Walla Walla to be more conservative.

17 Replies to “WTA Tax Increase Losing in Early Returns”

  1. “I’d expect Walla Walla to be more conservative.”

    Maybe that’s why. Many conservatives have nothing against sales taxes. They see it as a use tax, it’s fair. Many liberals however are very opposed to sales taxes because of the regressive nature of them. Thus, maybe its closer in Whatcom because there are more liberals in Whatcom that are opposed to sales tax increases.

    1. lol, yes a transit tax on buying a burger is a use tax… I’m sure the conservatives just love it. Plenty of other reasons this could go down, like say not wanting to pay any more in a down economy.

  2. The issue might be one of how those voting perceive the local transit agency. If voters in Walla Walla have a positive view of their transit agency and see it as a valuable service they are more likely to vote for it. An issue in Whatcom might be a town vs. gown thing. If voters in Whatcom see transit as mostly a service for the WWU students they might not be so inclined to tax themselves to maintain service.

    Also with all mail in elections it is really too early to know what the final count will be. 245 votes is a really small margin and the final outcome could be very different. In particular younger people (college students) are more likely to turn their ballots in at the last minute.

    1. 245 votes is a really small margin and the final outcome could be very different.

      Yes, but it’s not going to suddenly be anything like a 50-point margin.

      1. One problem with vote by mail is that you don’t know where the votes are coming in from. With vote in person, you knew which precincts had turned in votes, and which precinct favored a certain side on a measure, and which still had to turn in their votes, and that helped one form a better estimate of where a measure stood.

      2. I don’t have any data at hand, but I think recent history has shown that mail-in elections trend conservative early, with a late progressive push—basically confirming a seed of truth to the stereotype that the young and the liberal tend to procrastinate, while the older and more conservative are more likely to do things like pay their bills early, vote early, etc. It’s why as a McGinn voter I didn’t lose any sleep over election-night results last November—no one I knew under 35 had dropped off their ballot until the last few possible days.

  3. I read in the Bellingham Herald that the pro-tax increase group raised $59,000, with large donations from the transit union and a bus manufacturing company. The anti-tax increase group raised only $13,000.

  4. In reference to Walla Walla…

    Yes, Walla Walla voters are (mostly) very supportive of their transit services. Before their fare increase, fares were only $.25, so many people were easily able to use it. Fares are only $.75 now, which is still the lowest fare in Eastern Washington. Plus, having three colleges in town doesn’t hurt ridership at all.

    And as the STB already reported, Walla Walla was able to pass the tax increase measure. Now we just have to pass that good karma over to Whatcom county. I really do hope it passes. I don’t live there (I live in the Tri-Cities, and ride Ben Franklin Transit), but I have used WTA, and still appreciate the fact that I wouldn’t have been able to walk into Canada, just like Oran did, without them.

  5. Special mail-only elections just don’t bode well for progressive causes. I’m surprised it was such a close loss, frankly.

    1. The final results aren’t in yet, the ballots will be coming in most of the rest of the week.

      All elections in Washington are now mail-in only so there you go.

      1. That’s why I said used the word “special” too. This is a “special” mail-only election. Registration needed to be done in person if I remember correctly. Either way, it was doomed to fail from the beginning.

  6. Over 40% turnout in an election like this is huge. For the money advantage the YES campaingn had they sure didn’t do a very good job at getting the message out or building any grass roots support. Not that your typical college freshmen tends to be that involved in politics to begin with (let alone a wonky transit funding measure) but if it weren’t for this blog my son at Western wouldn’t have even known this was happening.

    1. I believe the turnouts for special elections have gone way up since Washington went to all mail-in voting. Though I believe 40% is still really high turnout. Perhaps the anti-tax crowd is particularly strong or well organized up in Whatcom county?

  7. One issue they may have to overcome is the fact that there is no transit service on Sundays outside of Bellingham. It’s hard to say to the county residents that service on Sundays will cease if you don’t have it. What exactly do they lose?

  8. No! The Go! buses have been perfect for getting me from the Amtrak station to my mom’s house on Alabama Hill. This would be a serious blow to Bellinghamsters everywhere.

  9. The latest returns, tallied Wednesday afternoon, are trending even more to the no side. The totals as of now are 26,413 no to 25,483 yes, or 50.9-49.1 percent. More ballot results will be posted Friday. It could turn around, but the late ballots would need a sharp turn in the other direction for the measure to pass. The 45 percent turnout is high for an election like this.

  10. This should be a bellwether for any proposed similar tax hike in King County. Its the kind of thing that plays on the polarizing power of the right-wing while often unsuccessfully tugging at the heart strings of the left – unsuccessful because the left has not only heart strings, but purse strings.

    My view is that Constantine’s floating of the possibility of a King County sales tax hike isn’t a serious one, but a move to placate the left by pretending to look for new revenue while really placating the right through a preemptive strike against the County’s lower paid employees. This also allows him to divert attention from the inflated salaries and bloated upper-level personnel expenditures by scapegoating both represented and unrepresented lower-level workers.

    It’s a Rope-A-Dope move.

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