King County’s Proposition 1, a car tab and sales tax hike to fund bus transit and local road projects, lost handily on Tuesday night. The proposal would have tacked on an extra $60 for car tabs and raised the sales tax by .1%.
Voters were not convinced it was worth it to pour more money into an unreformed Metro bus system. Metro’s costs have continued to outstrip its revenues, even though its revenues have risen significantly and ridership has remained essentially flat.
King County Republican Chairman Lori Sotelo and her team deserve a lot of credit for their work on Prop. 1. Facing a pro-Prop. 1 campaign with $650,000 behind it, their response was simple and effective: Metro needs to get its fiscal house in order before asking voters for more money.
The pro campaign used their best scare tactics to worry voters, but Lori and her team used data-driven arguments about Metro’s revenue growth and its ever-expanding expenses. They showed voters that you can be for transit and still question the wisdom of these new taxes. Voters got the message: Prop. 1 was a tax to fund the status quo.
The onus is now on legislative leaders to come back to the negotiating table and bargain in good faith on a statewide transportation package. Now that Prop. 1, which some saw as a bargaining chip in what seems like a constant battle for leverage in the legislature, is over, legislative leaders have the opportunity to take a deep breath, see the landscape a little more clearly, and negotiate their way to a solution that can pass both houses.
The message for Republicans: voters want to invest in our transportation system to help our economy. The message for Democrats: voters don’t want to invest in an unreformed state Department of Transportation any more than King County voters wanted to invest more in an unreformed Metro bus system.