I’m not surprised that King County Metro’s Proposition 1 failed at the polls during a special election, but like most other observers I am surprised that it failed by such a wide margin. Late ballots have softened the blow somewhat, but there aren’t many late ballots remaining. When the final vote is tallied, Prop 1 will have failed by about eight points.
By modern American standards, eight points is almost a landslide.
So the question remains: had the county gone to the ballot with the more progressive Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) we requested from the legislature (a 1.5 percent tax on the value of your car), would voters have approved that at Tuesday’s election? And I think the answer would likely have been a resounding “No.”
Editorial board opponents had touted the regressive nature of Prop 1’s car tab/sales tax combo, but of course that was disingenuous. All our taxes are regressive, and there’s no support from the Blethenites to fix that. The truth is, any Metro funding solution that didn’t involve busting the bus drivers union would have earned a “no” endorsement from the Seattle Times.
Not that there wasn’t a sizable contingent of “no” voters on the left who failed to weigh the regressive nature of bus cuts versus the shitty reality of the tax authority we have. But I just don’t believe that’s a large enough swing vote to overcome an eight point margin. The fact is, most voters just aren’t going to distinguish between an MVET and a VLF (Vehicle License Fee)—they are both taxes that you pay when you renew your car tabs.
King County voters voted against raising taxes on their cars. Period. By eight fucking points. So it would be a mistake to read too much nuance into Tuesday’s results in order to presume that an MVET would have fared much better.
That’s why, unless the legislature is prepared to give King County councilmanic authority to levy an MVET without the approval voters—and the legislature most certainly is not—I believe Olympia’s failure to act is probably now moot. We can’t pass an MVET in a special election, and maybe not in an off-year general election either. Perhaps in 2016, during a high-turnout presidential election, but even that wouldn’t be a sure thing. In the meanwhile, systemwide Metro cuts are now unavoidable.
Politically, that means two things. First, Seattle must act on its own to save our in-city bus service from the cutting room floor. We can do that. Prop 1 passed handedly in Seattle precincts. And we have plenty of funding options.
Second, our county’s legislative delegation must wrap its collective mind around the fact that an otherwise crappy state transportation funding package is no longer a price worth paying in return for Metro MVET authority. The hostage has died. So don’t make major concessions elsewhere in return for a non-councilmanic MVET authority we likely can’t use.
Elections have consequences, and most of Tuesday’s consequences are bad. But let’s not compound them by pretending they didn’t happen.