Since 2014, the City of Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District (STBD) has consistently funded transportation improvements across the city, such as more frequent Metro buses, subsidized ORCA cards for income-qualifying residents, and pre-paid ORCA cards for Seattle Public School high schoolers. Seattle voters approved the STBD through a 0.1% sales tax increase and a $60 annual Vehicle Licensing Fee (VLF), also known as car tab, for citizens who can afford it (the city runs a VLF rebate program for income-eligible motorists). We aren’t alone– about 60 other communities across the state fund their TBDs by one or both of these sources, improving vehicle, bus, ferry, and rail access across Washington. 

When the program began in 2014, only 25% of Seattle households lived within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better all-day service. The original goal was for over half of all households to be served at that level by 2020. Through the STBD, the city met that goal in 2016, and continues to improve: today, 71% of households in the city enjoy frequent, reliable transportation access. The STBD directly added 6,780 weekly bus trips to Seattle residents, mitigating overcrowding, expanding access, and creating opportunity for Seattleites across the city. 

Investments from STBD benefit all areas of Seattle, including neighborhoods the city has designated as having low access to economic opportunity. Access to transportation has been found to be a crucial factor in upwards social mobility. Historically underserved populations, such as Southeast, Southwest, and far North Seattle, have benefited directly from faster, more frequent service (e.g., Metro bus routes 106, 120, and the E line), and multimodal street improvements. STBD also funds the ORCA Lift program and saved Metro’s 24-hour Night Owl service from being permanently cut. 

Recently, the STBD has been expanded to also target noted “problem areas” with spot improvements. Improvements such as queue jumps that move buses through intersections before other traffic and bus-only lanes which provide reliable access for buses have compounding positive benefits for reliability and speed. The STBD also improves bus shelters, and has constructed longer bus pads to serve rear doors on long buses, improving safety, comfort, and access for riders.

Initiative 976 (I-976), on the ballot this November, directly cuts revenues from VLFs, impacting revenues to governments and agencies around the state, especially Seattle. If I-976 passes, effects would be immediate; Many of the gains made through the STBD would immediately be lost. The STBD currently funds 350,000 of King County Metro’s roughly 4 million annual service hours. King County Metro estimates that impacts would likely include overcrowding, increases in customer pass-ups, reduced bus frequencies, and deteriorated service availability, especially within Seattle.

The loss of revenue if I-976 passes would also hurt regional programs that many Seattle citizens use, such as Sound Transit’s Link light rail expansions, state-wide paratransit for persons living with disability, Washington State Ferries daily sailings and improvements, SR 520 West End completion, and I-90 Snoqualmie Pass expansion. Transportation benefit districts are not just for transit; most cities use TBDs to fund road improvements as well, such as Spokane, where its TBD provides 60% of the city’s annual road maintenance budget. 

We write this message to you as your fellow citizens, having gained intimate knowledge of the positive impacts STBD has had on our city thanks to our volunteer work serving as members on its oversight board, the Seattle Transit Advisory Board. In 2014, we Seattleites took a step to expand greener transportation service and improve access. We’ve gained more frequent bus service for all and expanded transit access to those who need it most. Let’s keep it up! Vote “No” on I-976 this fall.

Bryce Kolton, Capitol Hill
Alex Wakeman Rouse, Rainier Beach

38 Replies to “Seattle Transit Advisory Board Members: No on I-976”

  1. Correction!

    This was not written nor endorsed by the Seattle Transit Advisory Board. This was written by Alex and me, two citizens who happen to be serving as members to the board. The Seattle Transit Advisory Board does not hold an opinion, official nor otherwise on I-976, and has been working to prepare to help King County Metro and other transportation agencies to enforce the will of the voters, whatever the results.

    (As a private citizen though, “No!” to I-976!)

    Bryce Kolton

    1. You’ve got to be kidding me. The whole piece should’ve been retracted then (that’s directed at you, STB) and your “correction” identifying exactly whose opinion is being expressed here should be your opening statement.

      I expect better form from this blog (sigh).

  2. I-976 will certainly pass because the 40% of Puget Sounders who vote against transit will be joined by the hordes throughout the State who will vote “Yes” to “own the Libs in Seattle”.

    But it will equally certainly be ruled Unconstitutional because it clearly deals with two “subjects” one of which is not within the purview of an Initiative.

    Mandating a maximum car tab fee of $35 is clearly within the bounds of the Inititative process. It’s a straightforward legislative action.

    However, directing the board members at Sound Transit to “defease” bonds sold with the backing of car tab fees, no matter how “fractional”, is out of bounds. It is an administrative action and violates the due process rights of the buyers of the bonds to boot.

    While the Legislature — or presumably an Initiative — certainly has the power to insist that future bond issuance may not be backed by car tab fees, even the Leg can’t order the Executive branch to alter an existing contract. That is not an “oversight” function but a direct administrative action.

    So, ST at least is probably “safe” until the reactionaries get themselves a smarter flack than Eyman.

    1. “So, ST at least is probably “safe” until the reactionaries get themselves a smarter flack than Eyman.”

      One could almost suppose that someone who had repeatedly been through similar issues would know better and was intentionally writing bad initiatives in order to keep coming back to the same trough of donations/management fees year after year.

      1. What’s 2019-1999? Twenty years ago, the State Supreme Court handed State Government Tim Eyman’s head on a plate for an initiative with too many subjects.

        Whereupon Democratic Governor Gary Locke signed Tim’s language into law, with a lot of Democratic votes on the grounds that “The Voters Have Spoken. ”

        Leaving Tim with his real meal ticket, which is intimidating the electoral process for hire. What’s Ambassador Locke doing these days? Let’s ask him what to do this year.

        Same with any Democrat in the legislature who’s a veteran of that “yes” vote on UnConstitutional Measure 695. Who says it’s only courage that guarantees you your place in History?

        Governor Inslee, any thoughts?

        Mark Dublin

      2. The legislature did enact the provisions of I-675 after the courts threw it out. But that was a different time: the initial growth of the tax-revolt movement. The legislators were scared they’d be out on their ear if the didn’t enact it, and they expected to do more beyond it. (E.g., Another popular concept was to require a 2/3 majority for any tax increases.) The social/political environment was different: the mid 20th century consensus hadn’t eroded as much, the cost of living was lower (especially housing, so homeless and poverty weren’t as acute), the freeways weren’t as congested, the liberal bastion in Seattle wasn’t as large, the inner-rung suburbs were more conservative, the public hadn’t experienced the impacts of previous tax-slashing measures, and Eyman’s self-dealing wasn’t well known. All those have changed now. The first several Eyman initiatives passed, but then some started failing, and the public stood up to defend some taxes. This one could go either way, but the factors aren’t the same as they were in 1999.

      3. I agree Mike. Also worth noting is that this is an off-year election. Just as Sound Transit had successful proposals during general election years, Eyman has tax initiatives during an off year. As a result, legislators with any sense won’t be as afraid — this won’t necessarily be seen as a movement, but more like a successful scheme.

        Also worth noting is opposition by the Seattle Times editorial board. Pretty amazing, really, given their general opposition to all taxes. It shows what a stupid initiative this is.

  3. That’s obviously what Eyman is hoping for, but he’s unlikely to get every single person who voted against Sound Transit or every single person outside the Sound Transit District. Sure, he’ll get most of them. But most does not equal all and the margins matter. Even if just 20% of the above groups votes “no”, it could be enough to sink it if joined by an overwhelming “no” vote among the Puget Sound pro transit constituency.

    As to where this 20% might come from. Some cities outside Seattle, including Spokane, have a TBD funding road improvements that some people might not want to lose. Even within Puget Sound, not everyone who voted no on ST3 is diehard anti transit. Some just don’t care one way or the other and may vote to preserve the status quo, whatever it is. Some people who don’t live in a TBD might decide to just abstain, since it doesn’t affect them. Again, I don’t expect a majority outside Puget Sound to vote no. But we don’t need a majority of them. We just need enough.

    Another perspective. The 2018 carbon tax initiative was statewide and got 41% of the vote. If everybody that voted yes on that votes no on i976, just 1 in 6 opposition from those that opposed i732 is enough to sink i976. There are any enough people that are skeptical to complicated initiatives in general, whatever they may be, that getting 1 in 6 from the i732 no voters doesn’t feel impossible.

    The fact that several cities in more conservative parts of the state have also endorsed a no vote is also an encouraging sign.

    Also worth noting that when the original $30 car tab initiative passed, the Puget Sound area was much less populated, and the electorate, much more conservative than today. This was at a time when the Republican party was still competitive in statewide races.

    If Seattle can vote against i976 in similar numbers to how it voted against Donald Trump in 2016, it can be beaten.

  4. I think we should give voters credit for being smart enough to see that approval of I-976 would be a bad thing for all of us. People are not stupid. Look to the recent vote in Phoenix to allow light rail expansion for proof.

    Just like conservatives should give credit to voters for being smart enough to see that ST-3 will benefit all of us. People were not duped.

    1. That was directly a light rail expansion. This is directly a tax cut that has a side effect of harming transit. Look at what happens with education: one group of people votes to increase teacher salaries and shrink class sizes, then the next year another group of people turns out and votes to slash taxes, which indirectly eliminates the revenue for those education improvements. This kind of things has happened in Washington. (Not as much in recent years as people became more willing to fund education.) And car tabs are a hot-button issue for many people: they’re vaguely conscious of disliking sales tax and property tax, but they really don’t want an annual bill on their precious car. And people outside Pugetopolis think it will only affect Seattle (who is so wasteful anyway it doesn’t matter, and who needs trains anyway?), or they think that they’re paying for Sound Transit when they’re not.

      I refuse to predict the outcome of this or any other measure. We just don’t know. It depends on who turns in their ballots, and whether people decide or change their mind at the last minute.

    2. I wouldn’t be surprised if it passed because many people in the King County suburbs who drive everywhere believe that they should not have to pay for something they don’t use and that people who use mass transit should be the ones paying for it; While I understand that they would be effected by it, I believe many of them see it as a wallet/pocketbook issue for them. This is in addition to people who live out in Central/Eastern Washington who will support it because they won’t be using light rail.

      1. My understanding (and this is from someone who is a technical writer) is that “effected” is always OK. It has been used often enough (incorrectly) that using it “incorrectly” is just fine. Same goes with using “who”, when “whom” is proper. Words evolve. Phrases and words that would have been grating to your grandmother are considered acceptable.

        The opposite is not true, however. If you use “affect” or “whom” incorrectly, you sound like a pompous jack-ass.

        Personally, if I’m going to fight a grammar war, it will be over terms that are ambiguous, like “literally”. It is often used as an “intensifier”. An announcer at a football game might say “That was a monster hit. He was literally knocked out”. OK, was he unconscious? Is he now under concussion protocol? Or was it merely a really hard hit? Words matter. Sometimes. In the case of effect versus affect — not really. The meaning is always clear.

      2. ECC, I think we fear the same outcome for exactly the same reasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if a LOT of people in the Sound Transit service area are thinking:

        “Oh, c’mon it’s only 20% of the local funding. The Democrats will fill the gap from DC. It’ll get built the car tabs. I’m votin’ ‘YES’!”

        I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a real possibility.

    3. People are not stupid.

      Gotta disagree with you there. I think voters are stupid. Entire books have been written about it ( My favorite summary of the situation is this one: Substitute “light rail” for “children” and it pretty much summarizes this debate. Are people stupid enough to vote to lower taxes even though it would mean dismantling the things they voted for recently? Oh yeah.

      As to whether that happens or not, I have given up on predicting votes after the 2016 election. Even professional, well paid political experts (those with doctorates in political science) were completely wrong in that one. By the way, the book I mentioned (about stupid voters) was written well before 2016.

      1. Good you mention children. Whom- speaking from both observation and experience as a former child whose first home was easy walk from heavy-rail elevated and subway, an intercity railroad running both diesels and steam, and of course The Electroliner and its interurban forebears, could be transit’s most sought-after and fallen-all-over demographic.

        Has transit got any money for school field trips? From experience again, needs to be mostly electric-powered, including not only Link but a lot of trolleybus, especially the big ones. Parents and, more important grandparents, confirm that on any given trip, children love their transit ride more than whatever boring thing it was they were going to go see.

        Also notice that every young woman starting about age seven is a natural self-appointed deputy rule enforcer. One reason I’m promoting the Seat-hog’s twin sibling The Tapmunk to spread the word about de-boarding recording. Best we issue the adorable furry headgear first to present fare inspectors to rescue their self-image from lingering taste of certain policies.

        And to remove natural temptation to steal them from kids. Nature can be both cute and savage at the same time. But I’m real, real serious about cultivating an intense familiarity between children and their transit system. Too bad somebody horribly evil gets credit for “Give me a child ’til they’re six.”

        Because truth is that at six months, they’re already pointing and demanding a stroller-ride down the escalator every time they hear a train-bell near either IDS or Westlake. Could also make for good strategic planning re: demographics.

        Estimate average young transit-rider’s age and do the math as to the year they’ll turn 18 and vote. Keeping in mind that’s also the age they can be in the Legislature.

        Mark Dublin

      2. [Off Topic, Yes, But Worthwhile]

        Ross, I don’t want to be contrary, but you’re overstating 2016. Hillary Clinton won the PV by almost EXACTLY the margin that the consensus of “quality” pollsters predicted. And, though most gave foolishly over-confident “probabilities” of a Clinton victory, FiveThirtyEight, the best in the business, gave Trump a bit better chance than one-in-three of winning on the day before the election.

        Winning three crucial states by a total margin of less than 100,000 votes sounds like a one-in-three victory to me.

      3. But you are forgetting, Tom, that most pundits thought that Trump had no chance of winning the primary, let alone the general election until very late in the game. Saying the Knicks will win the championship six games into the final is one thing; saying they will win it right now is another.

      4. @RossB Who are these “Knicks” of whom you speak? (Sorry. I couldn’t resist, as a former New Yorker myself.)

      5. Ross,

        “Pundits” ≠ “Pollsters”

        Pundits are almost universally corrupt douchebags. Some pollsters are too. Most aren’t.

      6. The point is that any prediction of I-976 at this point is punditry. No one has mentioned a single poll. They are simply making assessments based on various theories of previous elections. The same is true of polling for president. The only poll that has any value right now is polling in Iowa, and that is likely to change between now and the vote. After Iowa, things change, based on the results. Or at least they usually do (now here I am, engaging in punditry again).

        In the case of Trump, based on polling, he had extremely high negatives (still does). Typically, a candidate with a very loyal following who has high negatives gets a plurality in early, crowded contests, but struggles as he faces a single opponent. Trump didn’t get over 50% in any state until very late in the race, in his home state of New York. By then he was running against a single opponent — the only guy that is more despised than him: Ted Cruz.

        The point is, no polling suggested that; few pundits suggested that. It surprised just about every political expert in the country (as well as many amateur pundits, like me). I figured the Republicans would flirt with Trump, just like they do with various “non-politicians” (Herman Cain, Ben Carson). They catch fire, have a plurality in the polls for a while, but then people settle on a typical politician — someone is actually capable of doing the job. Nope, not this time.

      7. People are stupid. My grandmother voted yes for the “No Tax on Food” initiative. She also told me she supports the taxation of soda.

  5. Mike, would like some feedback on my thought that politicians who are afraid to lose won’t take victory when it’s handed to them on a plate with an apple in its mouth.

    The so-called “Tea Party” phenomenon is itself an excellent case in point. The demonstration known as “The Boston Tea Party” had nothing to do with Government Spending. Theme was “Taxation Without Representation.”

    Which every single should-be voter in Washington DC should long since have amalgamated with Second Amendment ramifications.

    But not once during or since my political side did set the historic record straight, evidently leaving ourselves de-fanged for life. So I’m appealing to you for advice.

    Weather in Olympia is projected to deliver this afternoon’s hydropower for whole foreseeable future. So if I’ve once again got elected representatives and leadership who’ll let themselves be frightened into rescuing Tim from another court defeat, future savings on taxes I’ll use for new waterproof shoes.

    But more important, and dead serious: When speaking with a neighbor or cafe co-patron in Olympia, what should I stress when discussing Tim Eyman’s latest? Because Ballard or Kansas, like Dorothy pointed out to her dog, I’m not there anymore.


    1. I’m glad you’re in Olympia fighting the good fight. I don’t have a talking point articulated or know what would move Olympians. I understand the average suburbanites’ mindset but I don’t know how to convince them. The mindset I see again and again (even in Seattle) is, “I drive”, “It takes too long to get where I need to go on transit”, “I can’t afford $100 car tabs without cutting into other necessities”, “$60+ is an unreasonable amount for an annual car fee”, “I have two cars and two motorcycles (two of them non-working) and that adds up to over $400”, or “The rate should be based on the market value of the car, not on some higher value.” They aren’t opposed to all taxes but they see the car tab fee as excessive or a hardship.

      The best counterargument is is that all these surcharges had voter approval, and yanking the funding would slash services that were already determined to be needed and would waste the investments in them. I’d look at the specific impacts on Intercity Transit and other Olympia programs, and the impact on commuter transit to Tacoma/Seattle. Some of them want the express buses to continue, and maybe a few of them know what the Tacoma Link extension is and would like it to be available. You could also mention the possibility of improving Olympia-Tacoma transit in the future (e.g., an ST extension), and how this measure would prevent any possibility of it.

  6. Get rid of the tax on those who voted against it and let those who do want it pay the difference in what is lost.

    1. Then, everyone would vote against it because why pay for something when you can freeload? It’s essentially the same as not levying taxes at all, and funding transit service with donations. In practice, it is impossible to raise enough money, except with taxes.

    2. The solution is simple:

      If each mode of transportation is to be considered “Paying its own way”, what should be done is Privatize.

      The idea that a private for-profit company is the epitome of efficiency and excellent cost-accounting would reveal quickly exactly what the cost is to each user.

      If we want to be true to the history of previous generations, we should deed the available ROW surrounding the freeways to either the trucking companies, or a private consortium.

      If that is repugnant to those who feel the roads are for the public, then put together the ballot measure that shows the cost/benefit numbers of expanding/improving the road system.

      If it’s a desirable plan, then the public will vote YES.

  7. To me, car tabs are a sin tax, and unfortunately we have molded our entire society around this sin. While in this case the taxes don’t directly fund the externalities (as a tobacco tax-> public health funding might hypothetically work), funding transit is a worthwhile thing to pay for with taxes on driving.

    I have a perverse obsession with reading comment sections on websites I disagree with (MyNW, Seattle Times), and a common refrain is “I will never ride the choo choo, so why should I pay for it? Build more lanes for my car!”

    What if drivers were taxed for… cleaning up the tire particles that that are flooding our waterways and oceans, and ending up in the bodies of wildlife and in our food? Creating a trust fund that would pay for the victims of people injured or killed by drivers? Taxed to pay for health treatment of people who breathe in brake pad dust and tailpipe exhaust? How about being taxed to create alternatives to driving so people can decrease all of these externalities? All that is being proposed is the last thing. If anything, driving should cost more.

    I suspect the people voting “yes” on I-976 would also vote against being taxed to pay for any of the other negative impacts driving causes. They just want to go fast and break things, everyone else be darned.

    1. Here’s a decent selfish argument for supporting transit and defeating its destroyers: The number of single-occupancy vehicles a single articulated bus can clear out of every motorist’s own lane.

      Let alone a four-car Link train. And what every trip on transit saves in maintenance and cash value of your car. Lie-detector needle doesn’t even shiver when I say that one reason I’m for transit is precisely because I really do love my car, and hate what stop-and-go driving does to it.

      But also, I’ll be interested to see how the vote “breaks” among people who are sharing my first (and Lord how I wish it could be last) experience of being priced out of, say, Ballard and into, say, Olympia.

      Because I suspect that a lot of voter rolls in previously anti-transit places now contain people furious that we don’t have it anymore. And are seriously willing to pay, and work, and campaign for a remedy.

      However the vote goes, though, I’m going to keep on advocating for using buses to plug Olympia into same railroad that’ll go to places like Ballard, the U-District, West Seattle, Lynnwood, and Everett. Think many other people have other examples.

      However the vote goes, I think that on formal or volunteer basis, Sound Transit needs a department whose purpose is to propose and propagate future possibilities. With active presence in schools at all levels.

      If we want to spite people and places who hate transit the most, remember which direction kids tend to run when they flee home. It’s usually not away from Seattle.

      Mark Dublin

  8. I think it’s time to consider amending the state Constitution to ban initiatives altogether in off year elections. You shouldn’t be able to just sneak something by when people aren’t paying attention.

    We should consolidate all of our initiatives into at least the even numbered years, if not presidential election years.

  9. I also just realized that Trailhead Direct is funded, in large part, by the Seattle Transportation Benefit District. So, if I-976 passes, it is likely to be on the chopping block.

  10. Another point that sounds obvious, but is worth mentioning is that Seattle has grown a lot in the past few years, and many of the city’s new residents were not around for past campaigns – they have no idea who Tim Eyman is, and don’t know that much of Seattle’s bus service is funded by a TBD that I-976 would gut.

    The set of Seattle voters who support transit and would gladly vote “no” if they realize what’s at stake, but might not vote at all if they don’t could be quite large. If any of you have friends who have moved to the city recently, and are registered to vote, be sure to tell them! Don’t just assume that they already know what the people reading this blog know.

  11. As soon as “the smell of human waste” is no longer the number one complaint received by transit agencies, I’ll start supporting mass transit. Not a moment before.

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