This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This is a great point from Ben:

A more diffuse package raises negatives – which are much more powerful than positives. If a measure has roads and transit, people who hate roads will vote against it as well as people who hate transit. People who hate bike lanes voted against Prop 1, people who hate streetcars, and people who hate buses. The more complex your package, the more likely you are to trigger someone angry about another project.

The most useful initiatives are the ones that boil down to simple polls of the plebiscite.  Think of an emperor querying the people:

“Do the people want a monorail from Ballard to West Seattle? Yea or Nay?”


“Then it shall be so.”

Anything more complex than that, and initiatives break down.  Because citizens, unlike legislators, don’t horse trade.  Legislators love “Christmas Tree bills,” the kind that can be loaded up with amendments in exchange for enough votes to guarantee passage.  Legislators scratch each others’ backs.  Citizens don’t.  The backers of last year’s income tax bill, I-1098, added a provision that exempted small business owners from B&O tax.  This was good policy, and shielded the bill from some intellectual criticism, but did it earn them a single extra vote?

Prop. 1 attempted to bring together different constituencies — drivers, walkers, bikers, transit riders — into a coalition, thinking that together they would make for a majority.  But citizens don’t think like legislators, or even interest groups.  Instead, they fixate on the one part they don’t like, and then scuttle the whole thing because of it.

I’m not sure what could have been done differently.  Separating out the various pieces might have worked. A $20 car tab for faster buses? Maybe. $40 for road repairs? probably.  Focusing on one big project and not a bunch of little ones? Almost certainly.  But this is all conjecture.  Policy-wise, Prop. 1 got it exactly right.  But an initiative may not have been the best venue for such a policy.

2 Replies to “Horse Trades”

  1. The best comment I’ve seen on the subject so far is the idea that small-scale but needed changes (bus bulbs, transit signal priority) should be funded from general transportation dollars. If we can find an initiative target that is a single project of sufficient weight and benefit, do that, and save the general fund dollars for the things people don’t necessarily understand the benefits of but will benefit from in the long term.

  2. I agree. Sadly the general fund is getting smaller and smaller (especially since I-695), so we’re reliant on initiative to do basic maintenance work. Sad.

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