The planned 2030 extension of Link rail to Tacoma is likely to be delayed. 65% of Pierce County voters backed I-976 (image: SounderBruce)

Last week’s apparent passage of I-976 has given rise to a fair amount of commentary affirming that voters were sending a message, and disagreeing about what they are saying. One could focus on the statewide rejection of taxes on cars, narrow support for car tabs in the three counties served by Sound Transit, a probable positive vote within the Sound Transit RTA, the clearly positive vote in King County, or the massive rejection of Sound Transit taxes in Pierce County.

Precinct data is clarifying. It’s unfortunately not yet available in Pierce County. However, current precinct data is available for Snohomish County and first night detail is available for King County. Clear patterns are evident among the cities where I-976 over- and under-performed relative to the 2016 ST3 vote.

The I-976 vote polarized voters within the RTA along geographic lines more than ST3. Seattle voters, already most likely to favor taxes for transit, opposed I-976 by yet larger margins than in 2016. The suburbs to the north and south with the lowest pro-ST3 votes became more adamantly opposed with huge majorities against the MVET. The divided response from voters calls into question the marquee Sound Transit projects extending rail far to the north and south.

The tables at the end of this post compare, by city, the Yes vote on I-976 to the No vote on ST3 in 2016. In each table, cities are sorted from lowest to highest No votes on ST3. King County data is election night only. Snohomish data is through November 12.

Within the cities that delivered the largest majorities for ST3, the votes mostly tracked close to the results in 2016. Most Eastside cities were within three percentage points of the 2016 outcome. Seattle delivered the most emphatic rejection of I-976. 73% of voters opposed I-976, 4% better than the ST3 result. That result likely got even better when left-leaning late votes were counted.

In South County, even Renton, the story was very different. Cities where voters already leaned against ST3 swung 8-14% against car tabs. Roughly 2:1 majorities against the MVET make this area look more like Pierce County than Seattle or the Eastside.

(If you were thinking the lesson of I-976 was that King needs to decouple its transit spending from Pierce, where does South King fit?)

The Snohomish County results are generally negative. Most cities were a few percentage points more likely to support I-976 than the 2016 results. Only Edmonds voted against I-976 by a larger margin than the Yes on ST3 vote. The worst performances relative to ST3 were in Everett and Lynnwood. The swing to favor I-976 was 7% and 9% respectively. Awkwardly, these are the cities directly in the path of the Link extension.

Where does this leave us? The taxes that pay for rail extensions remain popular in Seattle, and reasonably well-tolerated on the Eastside. But future extensions to the Tacoma-Everett spine runs mostly through cities where taxes on cars are very unpopular. Politicians will have to figure out whether this unpopularity is isolated to the MVET and the controversial depreciation schedule, or if they need to address a deeper skepticism about projects. It’s not hard to imagine a vicious cycle where reduced funding slows projects and further erodes support for suburban light rail. Pierce County voters will welcome their lower taxes, but another delay to the light rail extension also weakens the value proposition of the remaining taxes.

King County: vote on Initiative 976 vs ST3, largest swings to I-976 in bold

CityYes on I-976No on ST3Swing
Federal Way65%51%14%
Des Moines59%52%8%
Mercer Island40%53%-13%

Snohomish County: vote on Initiative 976 vs ST3, largest swings to I-976 in bold

CityYes on I-976No on ST3Swing
Mountlake Terrace45%42%3%
Mill Creek56%51%5%

83 Replies to “The political economy of the spine after I-976”

  1. Thanks Dan for compiling the city-wise numbers.

    Would it make sense to look at the numbers from economic level of the cities. The more affluent cities have been indifferent to I-976 relative to ST3. The most striking is Mercer Island which saw a 13% drop. Hard to imagine that Islanders are now suddenly more supportive of transit.

    On the other hand the relative less affluent suburbs of South King county and Snohomish county have seen the largest increase in support for I-976. This could mean that many people here who need a car for their daily commute are being hit hard by the MVET but are not necessarily against better transit.

    1. This is more a problem with the initiative structure which doesn’t balance out the arguments.
      Most people are in favor of cutting taxes when it’s not clear what services need to be cut.
      Similar to how most people favored smaller class sizes without needing to determine how to raise the required money.
      I agree that the solution should be found through the legislature, not through an initiative.

      1. I remember that one.

        In 2000 there was an initiative to reduce class sizes. I forget the number.

        On the same ballot was Tim Eyman’s Initiative 722 which would have limited property taxes. Both initiatives passed.

      2. Yep. I’ve referred to that vote, but couldn’t remember the particulars. People voted to reduce taxes but increase spending at the same time.

      3. The initiative title essentially made it sound like the tax cut was painless. It didn’t say “and as a result the following cuts would need to be made”. It sounded like “free money” and there are a lot of low information voters out there.

        In addition, the No on I-976 campaign never said a word about transit in the ads I saw in South King (Comcast microtargets enough ads that I don’t know what might have aired in Seattle). It was all about roads and bridges. Your typical voter assumes they’ll find the money to fix substandard roads and bridges.

        Everyone’s messaging made people think this was just going to cut taxes and stop cities from imposing them in the future.

    2. I think that the 13% drop relative to ST3 on MI has more to do with the local issues concerning ST2 where there was fairly widespread anti-ST sentiment on MI — that is to say, there was specific anti-ST sentiment on the Island which would not necessarily carry over to anti tax initiatives.

      I also believe that the cuts to service caused by the Prop 1 defeat in 2014 made transit a lot less useful on the Island. Since then, partially as a result of funding supplied by the city’s 20 dollar RTD it’s back to being somewhat useful (although still nowhere near as locally useful as prep Prop 1. It’s possible that this contributed to an increase in support for car taxes.

  2. It is easy to see how Snohomish County — especially Lynnwood — has buyer’s remorse over ST3. Many figured ST3 was needed to get Link to Lynnwood, only to realize that it isn’t. Likewise, maybe voters in Federal Way figure Link will get there whether they have car tab money or not.

    But I think it is a big stretch to say that the I-976 was driven by newfound skepticism (or downright opposition) to Sound Transit proposals. This was not billed as a referendum on Sound Transit, or Sound Transit projects. It is true that Eyman mentioned it from time to time, but it was barely part of his campaign. Look at the editorial he wrote for the Seattle Time — — not a single word about Sound Transit. If you look at their campaign website, it does mention Sound Transit, but like the editorial, it is all about the funding, not the projects themselves. Likewise, the folks opposed to the initiative emphasized the harm it would do to all transportation projects, not just Sound Transit.

    I think the biggest issue, by far, was the valuation schedule. Second was simple opposition to car tab taxes. The votes make sense for an off year election (for example, my guess is not that many people “switched” their vote in Renton, but lots of ST3 supporters simply didn’t vote). If it seems contradictory for voters to support spending one election, then oppose taxes the next, this is quite common. It has even happened in the same election.

  3. Two big themes:
    1) People who live in transit-oriented areas are more supportive of transit
    2) Among non-transit users, wealthy people are less averse to paying taxes to support transit than lower-income people.

    Neither is a particular surprise, and it matches what I’ve seen anecdotally too. I met one person in Seattle who voted for I-976 because he was retired and didn’t like his car tabs. I met another person in Kirkland who drives a Tesla (extremely high valuation-based car tabs, on top of extra fees for being an EV) who voted against I-976 because he supports transit for the good of the region, even though he doesn’t personally ride it. Actual transit riders I know almost uniformly voted against I-976.

    While it is interesting that neighborhoods in the path of the “spine” were some of the loudest voices in favor of I-976, I would be very weary of “punishing” them. As Link expands and more people start riding it, more people will become more supportive of transit over time. For instance, I would expect the Lynnwood vote to go quite differently in 2025 than in 2019, just from Lynnwood Link station being in operation.

    Another theme is that the outcome of votes like this and NIMBY’ism in Seattle are inherently related. When we ban upzones, drive up housing prices, and force people who can’t afford them into the car-dependent suburbs, the same people who would be transit supporters if they could live close-in become transit opponents because their car costs are both killing them financially and impossible to avoid. When the next Eyman initiative comes up, this comes back to bite. If you look at the statewide gap of 100,000 votes, Seattle could have filled it easily if it had 200,000 -300,000 more people – which could have easily been absorbed had single-family neighborhoods been upzoned city-wide – especially if parking requirements were also eliminated city-wide.

    1. The last paragraph is spot on. The problem is that people who can’t afford higher housing costs are moving to lower-cost areas, and if those areas have skeletal and ever-worsening transit, then that’s a tragedy.

    2. Eliminate height limits, FAR limits, family limits, unit count limits, setbacks, and parking minimums. Watch things get better.

      1. Certain limits are good, within reason, and modest setbacks can increase transit use by encouraging pedestrian traffic, but we should be enacting unit count MINIMUMS at every building scale.

  4. One of the many problems that I 976 causes is that (until it is struck down in court) while we can triage some things (See you later parking garages), most of the stuff will be deferred. If Ballard to downtown is now pushed back to 2045, would we have scrapped the second tunnel/Ballard to UW got more support? And based on what the horde has suggested, it’s not like we can do this on the fly, we would have to pass a new ST 3.1.

  5. It shouldn’t be surprising that places with the lowest ridership projections are also the lowest to support paying to build it. It’s unfortunate how this will affect lower income people who rely on transit but many (most?) of those people aren’t commuting to downtown Seattle and probably would benefit much more from a more frequent and reliable ET/CT.

    Seattle can and should build inner-city rail themselves. Unfortunately our ability to tax ourselves keeps getting taken away.

  6. I’m of the firm view 976 – if it sticks – will force efficiencies in the ST3 plan.

    1) There is still a way to get light rail to Everett faster and cheaper. Why not reopen discussion of an automated spur to/from Paine Field? Force the debate into the public eye – and keep it there.

    2) Also why not take one lane each way from the Hwy 99 Tunnel thru Seattle and give it to light rail? Why not? Spare ourselves digging thru downtown – I’d take that anyday even if it means moving a few downtown stations.

    3) [], I’m all for prioritizing Ballard over West Seattle. Also the people of Ballard really, badly deserve light rail – and I’ve never seen Ballardites waver in their passion for light rail since 2015. West Seattle is still sending conflicting messages – you didn’t see that in D6.

    Give the above some thought please.


    1. Totally agree with your three points. If the math checks out, I think forcing the debate into the public eye should be considered.
      Not sure what type of engineering would be involved to make the Hwy 99 tunnel idea possible. Can the tunnel support the type of infrastructure necessary for light rail? Also would there be stations built in the middle of the tunnel? Seems like there might be a bunch of engineering complexities in making it feasible.
      And of course Ballard should be prioritized over West Seattle. The West Seattle tunnel should be completely out of the question now given the financial constraints.

      1. Thanks Josh.

        Ultimately, so much of this comes down to engineering on the first two. At least this time we can force some public debate. Some actual debate.

        I agree also no tunnel for West Seattle without a ST4 to help pay for it, putting them in the back of the line. Full speed to Ballard!

    2. If there were a spur to Paine Field, could we have it continue a little further and hit the Mukilteo Sounder/ferry station? That would help people coming from Whidbey Island onto Link more easily and turn that location into a 3- (4 with buses) mode transit center.

      1. Brian;
        Thanks. I have brought that up and the concern is operating bright, colorful moving trains perpendicular to the final approach path of two very active Paine Field runways instead of parrell to them like with SeaTac. Not to mention, I expect a tantrum and obstructionism from the Mukilteo community.
        But good idea… I’d love to see the Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal we are all paying a lot for and subsidizing fare free on Whidbey Island for connected to light rail expeditiously.

      2. And make sure that pathway goes right through eim tyman’s residence and pay the owner $30 for it.

      3. Could improvements to SWIFT effectively serve as a spur, and possibly be extended to the Mukilteo ferries, at least every other trip? For example, a better connection to Link light rail at 128th ST might be called for. Community Transit is looking at SWIFT to Edmonds, so there is the possibility of hitting both ferry terminals and Sounder North/Amtrak stations with premium transit.

      4. My first thought was yes, Swift could solve the Mukilteo ferry connectivity problem. Then I realized it would contradict what I’ve been advocating for the C and F. Frequent corridor routes shouldn’t go out of their way to serve infrequent ferry and train stations. Instead they should have an infrequent route timed with the ferry/train.

      5. “Could improvements to SWIFT effectively serve as a spur,”

        I believe that’s what was offered to the powers that be in Everett and Snohomish County during the ST3 planning stage. They rejected it.

        Personally I would have preferred that if it got the Link up here quicker.

        A spur rail to Paine Field, Boeing and Casino Road could have been part of ST4.

  7. In south King at least, we also need to consider turnout. County-wide turnout near 50%, but well below 40% in Kent and Auburn. Likely the campaign didn’t effectively reach voters in the area who are inclined to support transit.

  8. The ST3 project list hasn’t changed.
    The revenue projections for each subarea have changed.

    As a planning exercise, the ST3 projects need to have their times modified, based on the revenue projections for that subarea.
    If the admins in Pierce and Snohomish county want to defer the parking garages they pushed so hard for, typically ST would let them.

    Can’t see any reason for planning exercise to be modified by a voting pattern.

    Am I missing some decision maker or decision point?

    1. The parking garages in ST3 amounted to $661M in 2014 dollars, according to a STB post.
      The loss of MVET will cost Sound Transit $6.9B according to Dan’s post the day after the election.

      So an order of magnitude higher. Deferring Parking Garages ain’t gonna cut it.

    2. That’s exactly what ST will be doing starting with the board meeting this month. But it won’t make a decision right away; it will first get a financial report and debate what to do. You can’t make monumental decisions on truncations or timelines in three weeks, plus it would probably require public hearings. In any case it’s not necessary right away because the projects that would be impacted won’t start construction until 2025. Planning and operations are much less expensive than construction, so ST can afford to keep them moving.

    1. Subarea reports are updated every year; the latest was a few weeks ago. The financial plan also updated every year in the Fall. Subareas do not have independent debt capacity – that’s not how it works.

      1. Dan —

        You’re an expert on some things, but I have to disagree with what you’re saying in that comment. That “subarea report” you are referring to is just a retrospective snapshot of how spending was allocated each year. It is unrelated to Sound Transit’s obligations under ST3 to prepare financial plans for the five subareas.

        Here is part of the ST3 financial policies — link above — and those policies certainly do require five separate financial plans, and the debt capacity the board allocates to each subarea must be specified:


        The Financial Plan for Sound Transit activities addresses this equity principle by providing a financial plan for each of the five Sound Transit subareas, comprised of the subarea’s share of local taxes, debt capacity, farebox proceeds and an assumption for federal funding.
        . . .
        Local taxes will be allocated for subarea reporting based on actual tax receipts collected by subarea and within the Sound Transit District. The annual Financial Plan will incorporate updated forecasts based on these actual receipts.
        . . .
        Debt will be allocated for subarea reporting based on a subarea’s share of total long-term bonding requirements . . .. Subarea expenditures will be allocated for subarea reporting based on facilities and services to be provided, their projected costs and project contingencies, associated operating costs, debt service, reserves for debt service, operations and maintenance and capital replacement.
        Did you really not know that five separate financial plans showing remaining debt capacity for each subarea need to be prepared, updated and disclosed each year by Sound Transit?

    2. Everybody should contact their Sound Transit boardmember and demand that Sound Transit prepare and put up on its website updated “financial plans” of the type ST3 specifically requires. That way we’ll be able to see the updated expenses and revenues projections. Those plans will show how the five subareas’ projects are to be financed, whether surplus revenues are projected (and when), and they’ll suggest where and when car tab tax revenue loss might be important.

      Bear in mind, refinancing at lower rates would save money, principal payoff dates for amended bond terms could be pushed out . . ..

      1. Hi Aldo, let’s save this off-topic discussion for an open thread. I’ll just say for now that if you read the document you linked more carefully, you’ll see there is no requirement for five separate plans. The one plan that is prepared annually has all the subarea breakouts required.

      2. Hey Dan,

        Again, that retroactive snapshot of how Sound Transit spent revenues the prior year you now are referring to as “the one plan” isn’t the “financial plan” voters approved as part of ST3. It doesn’t reference debt capacity, it doesn’t show any of the revenues or expenditures going forward, etc.

        The “financial plan” ST3 requires is to be comprised of five separate plans, one for each subarea. I posted those explicit policies above. THAT is what Sound Transit needs to start doing ASAP.

      3. There’s a massive excel file that slices/dices every type of revenue and expenditure for every subarea and any number of other categories through 2060. It’s prepared annually at about this time. There was a high-level readout at a recent committee meeting, I think finance. You can PRR the file though it’s definitely only for finance professionals as there’s so much detail, and I assume that’s why they don’t just post it somewhere.

  9. I think the initiative process is too crude to be able to conclude anything definitive about support for Sound Transit. This vote was about the electorate’s aversion to taxes, particularly a tax that is highly visible (paid once a year in a big chunk) and hits every middle-class family. People don’t care that the people who benefit the most from this tax cut will be owners of luxury cars; they care that their own bill will go down.

    In the short term, the best that can be done is to spend less on parking near transit and cut projects that do not clearly produce higher ridership or a more efficient network. But longer-term, we need new funding sources.

    It seems like one potential source of revenue is to charge for parking near transit rather than not building it at all, and use that money to replace some of the MVET funding. Charge everyone who parks, and give people with transit passes a discount.

    Sales taxes are already maxed out as far as I’m concerned.

    We could tax large corporations that drive a lot of the transit use. Possibly we could support a high-income tax for transit and push it through the courts to finally overturn Washington’s ban on income taxes. We need to get creative, though, and stop relying on taxing lower and middle-income families while the richest people in the world pay hardly anything.

      1. Graduated income tax. Otherwise we’ll get a flat income tax that’s either too small to make a difference or onerous on everyone that ISN’T filthy rich, the exact opposite of what it should be.

  10. The way I see it is lower income and more purple areas in the South Sound already feel like taxes are a rip off. In these non-transit oriented areas people will even complain about buses being slow, making too many stops and causing traffic (!!). So you have a population living out in the sticks in barely-affordable housing, stuck in their cars, usually with no convenient transit opportunities for commuting. Surprise! the messaging about MVET from republicans, and acquiescence to that framing by democrats fell on fertile soil. If you already feel like you’re getting screwed by traffic and taxes, and then suddenly your 9-year old car is being taxed like a luxury vehicle, you might feel bitter and want to send a message. It’s sad, but a large part of the force of this general narrative will not go away unless we make taxes more equitable and transit more of a realistic option for more people.

    1. No one’s 9 year old car was being valued like a luxury car. The inaccuracy in the valuation table tended to overvalue newer cars and undervalue older ones. A change to the valuation table would mostly give tax breaks to people with newer cars.

      The reason people got sticker shock was mostly because the tax rate tripled, not because Sound Transit was overestimating the value of their cars. People can’t seem to understand that.

      1. The folks I’ve talked to in my neck of the woods (SW SnoCo) understood the reason for the increase in the RTA tax perfectly well. They simply dont like the depreciation schedule the MVET is based on. I’m not terribly surprised that the initiative is apparently going to pass as my own anecdotal experiences with neighbors and others in my community led me to find higher support for the measure than I initially had suspected. Among my peers and associates, the unfairness of the MVET schedule really seemed to resonate. This is pretty amazing when one considers the size of the ad buys by Keep Washington Rolling and the frequency of those ads during the weeks leading up to election day.

      2. My almost-20-year old car (2001 Saturn) has a yearly tab of $167. I can afford it pretty easily but that is kinda an absurd sum for a car that might be worth $500 ($1,000… tops) if I tried to sell it right now. (At least this is the last year for the emissions test.)

        I voted for ST3 and I knew what I was getting but it still seems like a poor valuation.

        I live in the city and I voted against Eyman and his snake oil (always will), but if I’m paying that amount on a 20-year old car, I can see how suburban voters with newer cars were charmed by Eyman.

      3. How much of the $167 is really ST3. Back in 2008, I had a car with a $100 car tab fees, and when I looked at the statement, it was basically a flat amount, so a 20 year old junker would be paying the same $100.

        In any case, $167/year is negligible in the cost of car ownership. Unless the car just sits in the driveway and never gets driven, you probably spend a lot more than that, just on gas.

      4. Yeah, $167 per year is extremely reasonable, especially if you’re living in Seattle where you could easily spend at least that much per month on parking alone.

      5. @Matt
        I’m basically in the same boat as you, owning an early 2000s light truck that is probably worth maybe $1500 in actual market value at best. But none of that matters since the MVET schedule ST is entitled to use stipulates the value as 10% of the MSRP for vehicles in this class (13 years and older) and therein lies the rub. That dastardly MSRP provision is one of the reasons why the DOL abandoned the valuation methodology in assessing annual vehicle registrations (tabs). The RTA MVET isn’t really all that much in my particular case but that’s really neither here or there. The point is that the methodology is already crappy to begin with and ST’s insistence on the older schedule just makes it even less justifiable.

        “Back in 2008, I had a car with a $100 car tab fees, and when I looked at the statement, it was basically a flat amount,…”

        You would’ve had a variable RTA tax added to your tabs back in 2008. The rest of your comment about the cost of car ownership and commenter Matt’s $167 RTA tax being negligible isn’t really germane to the valuation issue. The RTA’s MVET is an excise tax in name only; it’s really an ad valorem tax more akin to our property taxes. As I stated above, this is problematic for a number of reasons but central to all of it is the fairness issue.

  11. What about Seatac, Tukwila, and Kent numbers? The first two would be a helpful gauge of Link’s quality of performance. The last is a fairly significant city.

    Why the clear omission of so many South King County cities?

  12. During the last legislative session, Republican legislators often repeated that not having a low-carbon fuel standard was part of the 2016 transit-and-highways package (the one that allowed a public vote on ST3 and passed the highway part of the package without a vote of the people).

    If the court throws out I-976, and Republicans lead the charge to remove the ST3 car tabs anyway, then Democrats should consider the deal broken, and push forward with the low-carbon fuel standard bill.

    Those saying the poor need gas guzzlers have not noticed that pollution, and climate change in particular, is hardest on the poor.

  13. The analysis of south King votes is premature. These could easily swing much closer to the ST3 numbers when later votes are counted. I’m eager to see precinct level numbers too, but there is just not enough certainty to draw conclusions yet.

  14. The view from Pierce County? This is both a victory for us and may increase the likelihood that any new initiative put forth by Pierce County has a higher chance of passing to increase and add services to those locally. Had 976 been rejected and these unconstitutional valuations continued, any future sales tax increase initiative in P.C. would have been easily rejected. Let King County go at it on their own, because their win is Pierce Counties loss.

    1. The valuations are not unconstitutional. Why people continue to believe this lie is how 976 passed in the first place.

  15. As somebody who lives in one of these far-flung suburbs, some insight into my own neighbors:
    1. They generally are supportive of transit and light rail.
    2. Even I was completely stunned at how much my car tabs were. I was particularly baffled by the difference between our “old” and “new” car tabs. Most people were downright outraged. I think that the lesson is that people don’t necessarily read the fine print, and are very dollar sensitive. Sticking people with a one-time-per-year bill hits the pocketbook hard.
    3. The average American under the age of 40 does not have money set back to cover a $400 emergency. Imagine, now, that you are 30 years old, haven’t yet advanced in your career, just bought your first home that you can barely afford, or you are still renting, and are faced with a car tab of $250 or $300 on your new-ish car.
    Eyeman initiatives are intentionally written to omit what will be cut. Likewise, most new tax levies (schools, transit, etc), do their best to barely touch the surface on what this will cost people.
    Quite frankly, this is yet another example of why we need an income tax in our state. Those most able to pay will cover the largest portion of our public needs, and those most in need will pay the least. I’ve been in the “in need” camp earlier in my life, and currently lie somewhere in the middle. I’m happy to pay my fair share ($250/12=$20/mo… not bad… for me), but there are plenty of people out there who simply cannot afford steep, sudden, lump-sum fees like high-cost car tabs ($250?!?!? The neighbor does NOT have that money in the bank and is putting it on a credit card w/ 22% interest).
    I’ve lived in a state where I paid federal, state, city, and school district income taxes. Huge PITA to file four returns, but worth it to have the money come out gradually and know that the big boss is paying way more than the little guy.

    1. Engineer, good analysis. But Stan, based on experience I wish I didn’t have, none of us knows exactly which county we’re going to live…and suddenly wish we could still work…in a year or two from now.

      One of the automobile’s chief early attractions was its help in defeating the grip of “The Company Stoh!” as Tennessee Ernie Ford said it. Not just being able to cross city and county lines, but to ignore them.

      Of course there are right and wrong ways to handle this matter. But in the economy of our likely lifespan, concept of a region, and the potential freedoms it grants, have too many benefits to think “zero sum” triumphantly.

      Besides which, rather than having to inflict the extra miles on my car nowadays, would love to be able to get off my Olympia-Seattle jet hydrofoil for a coffee at that old cafe that used to be a drugstore in Steilacoom before riding the rooster-tail on north.

      Might also save me enough gas and depreciation to put a few more dollars on my “tabs” to make the Tacoma Link streetcars stop out there like they used to.

      Mark Dublin

    2. #3 is key. The “lumpiness” of the tax was a major problem, both perception and affordability. Even if people pay more over sales tax, by spreading it out over the year makes it much more palatable. If there was a way to break your car tabs into quarterly payments, I think that would have gone a long way towards mitigating some of the anger.

  16. When will all the bravado stop and everyone starts to look at both productivity and travel time metrics? The non-data-driven ST3 list was populist projects from ST2 that weren’t funded beyond planning in ST2.

    Maybe I’m naive but I can’t help but wonder if a message of government effectiveness or productivity would have been more persuasive for 976.

  17. If areas without good transit voted for 976, and urbanists say suburbs made up of mostly single family homes shouldn’t get good transit, then aren’t urbanists to blame for the initiative’s passage?

    1. Urbanists say suburbs should get good transit. They just disagree on what that is. Some favor ST3, some a larger Seattle Subway-like network, some frequent express bus feeders. I think most would say ST3 isn’t great but they went along with it because it had the most consensus among politicians and the public, and we weren’t going to get anything else passed that had less consensus. But what exactly is wrong with ST3 in Pierce and Snohomish Counties? That’s where the disagreement lies. But everyone would say we need light rail or half-hourly commuter rail or 15-30 minute express bus feeders. And comprehensive local transit and HOV/BAT lanes.

      Your “suburbs made up of mostly single-family homes” is also problematic. The only cities that are 99% houses are the tiny ones like Medina and Pacific, up to Sammamish and Mercer Island. Tacoma, Everett, Issaquah, and Auburn all have a significant number of apartments and commercial and industrial areas. The tiny cities don’t qualify for guaranteed ST service, only urban growth centers do. Mercer Island is getting it not because it’s must-serve but because it’s on the way.

  18. The spine is still doable with faster self-propelled trains and maybe some single track sections. It’s a matter of demand, frequency and creating transfer platforms like the BART one in Pittsburg.

  19. Not sure what you are talking about here. Didn’t Move Seattle provide Seattle the largest tax increase program in the history of the City? Tough to claim that tax authority gets taken away while at the same time raising record revenues.

  20. Is this an apples to apples comparison? 2016 was a presidential election year, people in every city in the region were voting for president, senator and representative in addition to ST3. In 2019, Seattle had a hot city council race, but most of the other cities didn’t have any major elections going on. Seattle’s turnout was about 54%, Kent’s was 38%. Seattle had a remarkably high turnout for an odd year election, which could explain why the Seattle electorate didn’t turn more conservative, which is the usual trend for low-turnout elections.

    1. Here’s a comparison for a selection of cities of 2019 turnout vs the ST3-976 swing (from above). There is a fairly strong correlation (R^2 = 0.81) – higher turnout meant relatively more opposition 976 compared to support for ST3.

      Apologies in advance for the lousy formatting of the below “table”

      City 2019 turnout ST3-976 swing
      Auburn 37 11
      Kent 38 11
      Everett 38 7
      Renton 39 8
      Federal Way 40 14
      Lynnwood 41 9
      Mountlake Terrace 44 3
      Issaquah 45 -2
      Bellevue 45 -3
      Burien 45 3
      Redmond 47 2
      Shoreline 50 0
      Seattle 54 -4
      Mercer Island 57 -13

  21. Auburn – 68% yes. Auburn is in the 8th congressional district. Both the 8th’s Rep and Auburn’s mayor are Dem. Auburn also overwhelmingly voted for Clinton. So it’s not just tax-hating Republicans who voted for it. So why did Auburn Democrats vote for 976?

    1. Could be because they’re conservative on taxes, but despise Trump, and are willing to vote for a moderate Democrat to hold him accountable. There are suburban districts all over the country that are like this.

    2. Go up to my analysis. Yes, it is Democratic. But it is also dollar-sensitive. People don’t live in Auburn because they want to. They live there because it is what they can afford.
      It’s worth adding that the Democrats we have in office could have once qualified as moderate Republicans. Our previous Congressman was a moderate Republican who chose not to seek re-election in the era of Trump, and now we have a moderate Democrat. As I understand it, our current Democratic mayor had a pretty good relationship with the previous mayor, who is a Republican party committee member when they were both on the council at the same time.

    3. I could see two reasons:

      1. The regressive nature of car tabs in suburbs with people who need cars to get around but who don’t have much money to spare. Many Seattlites think of cars more as a luxury, but these folks think of them as a necessity.

      2. The lack of light rail in the 167 (no project) and 405 South (STRide instead) corridors. Enhanced Sounder doesn’t resonate with many there.

  22. Whoa – an election results analysis with no mention of the fact this was run in an off-year election and the impact that has?

    Kind of a major miss, don’t you think?

    These results were close enough that we could run a repeal next year on a presidential ballot and win easily. Particularly if that repeal didn’t mention taxes the same way I-976 didn’t mention cuts.

    If the legislature doesn’t do something about I-976 this next session a ballot repeal is the next best thing.

      1. Is absolutely does.

        Voter turnout in Seattle was abnormally high for an off cycle election. That wasn’t true everywhere.

        The delta between the 2016 vote and 2019 looks an awful lot like picking your voters.

        Add in ballot language that didn’t even mention cuts and It’s kind of shocking it was as close as it was.

      2. How many millions did the No campaign spend in this lopsided campaign and you still want to spin the line that people ignorantly bought into the arguments of the side that had no money to make their case?

        Yeah, you’ll get better turnout across the board in a presidential year, and perhaps a more sympathetic electorate overall. But there’s no plausible arithmetic that gets you to a near 20 point spread between the swing in Seattle and the swings in the suburbs. Difference in turnout is nowhere near large enough to make your math work.

      3. See my post just a few above this. There is a strong mathematical correlation between the 2019 turnout % and how well or poorly I-976 did. Cities with turnout above 50% like Seattle, Shoreline, Mercer Island generally showed stronger opposition to I-976 than support for ST3. Cities with turnout below 45% like Kent, Lynnwood, Auburn generally showed weaker opposition to I-976 than support for ST3.

        Here’s the takeaway. Liberals in Kent and Lynnwood couldn’t be bothered to vote. They didn’t vote on I-976. They didn’t vote on I-1000. They didn’t vote for their city councils.

        In contrast, liberals in Seattle and Mercer Island could be bothered to vote. Maybe it was because of I-976. Maybe it was because of I-1000. Maybe it was because of big city council races. But they voted in force and those cities came out strongest against I-976.

        Poor liberal turnout in many King and Snohomish cities doomed I-1000 and carried I-976 to victory. Figure out how to excite those voters in off year elections.

      4. Where are you getting a 20 point swing? Seattle moved even further pro-transit but we’re talking about the negative move in low turnout suburban cities.

        Polling showed a huge swing when voters learned what the measure did. Can’t reach everyone – the ballot itself said nothing about transit cuts.

        But the bottom line is: Not mentioning the role of the ballot language or the off cycle election in your analysis ON A TRANSIT BLOG is a kind of an odd miss.

      5. I think Larry makes a strong case, but we would need to see ST3 numbers as well. For example, there is a huge change between ST3 votes and I-976 votes in Federal Way, along with low turnout. But what was the turnout like in Federal Way in 2016? It is quite possible that very few people “flipped”, and the change is almost entirely due to lower turnout.

  23. So, I have an anecdote (nearly worthless, I know) from today that I can’t help but add to this thread:

    Today I bought a 2008 Kia with a rebuilt title, private sale, from a nice, middle-aged gentleman in Lakewood (Pierce Co.). He was pretty garrulous, and during the sale process I learned that he immigrated from Moldova in the early 2000’s. At one point he spoke at length about how the roads have gotten much worse since he first arrived – “now they’re as bad as the roads in Moldova, if you told me this 20 years ago, I wouldn’t believe you!”

    Anyhow, the point of the story is that when we went to the DMV to transfer the title he was really interested in seeing how much it cost. I asked him why and he said that he heard it was really expensive now because they were building a train all the way from Everett to Olympia. He’d heard about it from his son and he wanted to know what “RTA” stood for.

    Anyhow, for what it’s worth, this guy didn’t know about I-976, and I doubt he had a clear idea of what ST3 was – but he knew that car tabs were expensive because of the train and the “RTA”.

    1. Also anecdotal, but a young friend of mine told me that she had voted for I-976 because who doesn’t want a lower price for something, and when I told her that it would have a negative effect on Sound Transit and the trains/buses she loves to use – and wants more of – she was horrified she had voted that way. This woman is very intelligent but perhaps – like most people – not a wonk about politics or transit or anything of the sort. People on political boards or boards like this one that are issue-specific are here for a reason and are generally knowledgeable about the topics at hand – but the vast majority of people aren’t on here.

      Perhaps the point is that a concerted effort should have been made to tell people explicitly “this tax pays for these things, and without this tax this and this and this will likely be cut or delayed.” More succinctly, “that train you wanted ain’t comin’ anytime soon if this thing passes.” Scare tactic, perhaps, but also true. Transit (and roads in other parts of the state) are popular enough that Eyman made some effort to avoid bringing them up, and it worked.

      1. “Perhaps the point is that a concerted effort should have been made to tell people explicitly “this tax pays for these things, and without this tax this and this and this will likely be cut or delayed.” ”

        But imho the well-financed opponents of I-976 did do that with their Keep Washington Rolling campaign, did they not? The last public disclosure report I read showed ten TV ad buys from Screen Strategies Media totalling almost $3.5M. (The group’s total expenditures were about $4.4M thru the same period.)

      2. It was certainly well-funded, but I’m not so certain it was as specific as it needed to be. I never got the impression that it was terribly well-presented as a “this will happen to *your* road/bridge/transit” campaign save as a fairly lengthy list that most people wouldn’t delve into.

        As I knew how I was voting, however, I didn’t read much of the literature and don’t know if they targeted their mailers towards specific areas (east Spokane freeway – or whatever – for that area, reductions to Link/parking garages for Ballard/WS/Everett/Tacoma, etc.). The radio and TV ads seemed to mainly touch the overarching point that infrastructure maintenance and new projects would be affected, true – but that’s at a macro level. With the funding they had they should have targeted areas as specifically as possible. With the caveat that data is not the plural of anecdote, I’ve heard very little but “I didn’t know *that* might be affected!” from nearly every “yes” voter I’ve spoken with.

      3. “As I knew how I was voting, however, I didn’t read much of the literature and don’t know if they targeted their mailers towards specific areas…”

        I did likewise, basically tuning out all of the advertising/mailers in the last few weeks of the cycle. Frankly I think they overspent on their tv spots as I think the ads had already reached a saturation point a couple weeks out from election day. Also, I don’t think the ads were terribly effective from a local impact perspective, so I agree with you on that point.

        I think when you mention focusing on specific “areas” you mean the actual types of projects that would be impacted by I-976 and not geographic areas, correct? I tend to agree with you on that as well, but I will note that the campaign did seem to target the Bellingham/Whatcom County area based on the reported expenses. Those efforts at least do appear to have paid off.

        Finally, in my local community here in SW SnoCo I am not hearing such comments from those that voted for the initiative whom I’ve spoken to both before and after election day. The most common refrain I’ve heard is (paraphrasing), “I want my car tabs assessed fairly.”. The same caveat applies of course.

        Thanks for replying.

      4. Thank you as well for your thoughtful replies. You’re correct in that I meant project types, as they do vary from location to location enough to potentially sway some voters were they to be more clearly explained as a local benefit derived from their licensing fees.

        I would assume (perhaps incorrectly) that most people would prefer to pay lower tab fees but other than that don’t know that those fees are fairly or unfairly derived – just that they seem too high. With little or nothing to compare that to that isn’t necessarily an unfair assumption, particularly if it’s unclear as to exactly where it all goes (at least the RTA fee is separated, but then you have to know what RTA is). It was much, much easier for Eyman to make the point decades ago when nearly everybody saw a whole bunch of Oregon-licensed cars in their neighborhoods and belonging to local residents – Oregon fees were dramatically lower than Washington fees and that was pretty well common knowledge.

        Again, much appreciated. We’ll have to see what comes next.

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