The final results won’t be known for some time, but it’s clear the Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1, the $60 Vehicle License fee for transit, road, bike, and pedestrian improvements, is going to lose badly. There are a lot of possible explanations, but there aren’t a lot of polls and I think a lot of people are going to see what they want to see in the results. And of course, why people say they vote no and why they actually vote no can be two different things. In that spirit, I’ll lay out some possibilities without really picking between them.
- Too regressive: I think this argument was factually oversold but politically very effective. Unfortunately, there are no other revenue options, and after this vote more authority from the legislature is a pipe-dream. So there’s not much constructive advice for transportation advocates in this analysis.
- Too big: $60 is large enough that its regressive nature begins to bite. If the City goes smaller, it’ll have to focus on the least controversial elements, which are probably potholes, pedestrians, and faster transit; meaning less bikes, less planning, less trolleybus, and less “transit access.”
- Too small: with a $200m total budget spread over every transportation interest group in the city, there wasn’t a signature project that everyone could rally around. If it had been more like a Sound Transit measure, with one huge program (say, $80 over 20 years to get HCT to Ballard) and a few smaller ones to provide some geographic equity, it might have done better.
- Too McGinn: the Mayor is a lightning rod for bike and transit skeptics that Mayor Nickels never was, even with virtually identical policies. He wasn’t very visible in the campaign, but he’s fairly unpopular and voters saw him as driving this agenda.
- Too vague: One reason to despise the initiative / referendum / proposition process is that complexity is the kiss of death, which is a terrible criterion to make policy. Regardless, there are three master plans and yet little sense of what projects would have emerged. Voters who don’t read STB mostly didn’t know anything about priority bus corridors. If the TMP had been ready in time*, the measure could have actually promised to build a specific set of them and put them on a big map to mail out, rather than saying “trust us.”
If you have evidence for one of these beyond what your circle of like-minded friends told you, I’d be interested to hear it. My suspicion is that this is like most things and it’s a combination of everything.
* Council-induced delays in starting the TMP last summer look especially bad in retrospect.