Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Seattle metro voters reject roads-transit tax plan

with 7 comments

Seattle Post Intelligencer


The legislatively forced package of roads and transit for the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett region did not pass. And I cannot say I am surprised. I wonder what would happen if the similar package being touted by our provincial government – the billions of dollars for the Gateway roads program, with a little bit for transit as an afterthought – were subject to the same democratic discipline? Because what the Seattle proposition showed was that for those on the right wing of the political spectrum, though they might like the idea of more freeway lanes, when it comes to paying for them, they hate increased taxes more. And probably tolls and road user fees too, as the artfully organized petition to 10 Downing Street showed on congestion charge proposals in Britain.

Instead of propositions to voters, BC has its “environmental assessment process” – which apparently Kevin Falcon thinks is an unnecessary burden. Actually it has never yet actually said no to any proposal – though a number got withdrawn when it was clear that they could not be made acceptable. My impression of what I have seen so far of the EA submissions from the Gateway folk is that they think the amount of documentation is an acceptable substitute for quality of information or rigour of analysis. I would like to think that the EA Office will seize this opportunity to break their duck – but even with my most optimistic spectacles on, I cannot see that happening. It seems about as likely as Gordon Campbell saying in public “I was wrong. It is a dumb idea.”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 8, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Transportation

7 Responses

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  1. It’s probably a bit more complex than just roads vs rail.

    Proposition 1 “combined a $30.8 billion Sound Transit proposal to add 50 miles of light rail line over 30 years and a $16.4 billion plan to build 186 miles of new lanes and ramps in the three counties.”

    Of the roads portion, the biggest chunk would have gone to the replacement of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (SR520) – $1 billion in toll revenue and $1.1 billion in sales taxes and car tabs (vehicle levies) towards the $4.4 billion project.

    $2.8 billion has been separately budgeted towards the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

    “Proposition 1 would impose a six-tenths of a percent sales tax and an eight-tenths of a percent tax on car licenses in the urban areas of the three counties, on top of current sales and license levies. If passed, it would raise the sales tax in Seattle to 9.4 percent.”

    “If you lived in an urbanized area of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, you would pay 6 cents on a $10 purchase. That would pay for the rail and road portions of the measure, an increase of $150 a year per typical household. Also a car-tab tax of $80 for each $10,000 of vehicle value would go to roads. ”

    That is in addition to the existing sales taxes and car tabs:

    “Taxes already levied for Sound Transit — 4 cents in sales tax on a $10 purchase and $30 for every $10,000 of value in car-tab tax (scheduled to end in 2028, when bonds are repaid) — remain in effect regardless of the outcome.”

    Given that more money under the Proposition was allocated to transit than to roads – it could just as easily be viewed as the overtaxed population not wanting to spend on anything (including transit). One comment in the P-I article notes:

    “I want to see how the Sea-Tac light rail (segment) goes before we put up 50 more miles of it.”

    Remember, Seattle defeated their light rail line proposal the first time, and had to go back to the voters a year later before passing (sound familiar?), and they passed the monorail expansion twice before finally killing it in 2005.

    ron c.

    November 8, 2007 at 1:14 pm

  2. I didn’t say it was roads vs rail – but I do think that the way the State legislature forced the question into this format was a deliberate ploy to piggy back more freeway lanes onto the desire for more travel choices. In the same way the promise of a few buses a long way out into the future is supposed to satisfy opponents of freeway expansion here. It’s the old “balanced proposition” technique and it by and large fools no-one.

    Also see this perceptive opinion piece

    Stephen Rees

    November 8, 2007 at 2:44 pm

  3. This exit poll that was sponsored by the Sierra Club (who was against prop1) shows how 20% of those who voted no to prop1 did so for environmental reasons. That’s about 10% of the entire electorate, which was enough to make the proposition fail:

    Click to access 2004002419.pdf

    Whereas I think it’s too much to say that fear of GHG increases due to highway expansion caused prop1 to fail, I think we can still be happy that the environment was a major factor in this.

    Also, exit polls are notoriously misleading, so we can’t believe too much in them.

    Andrew E

    November 8, 2007 at 10:10 pm

  4. The Seattle Times reported that the Sierra Club poll indicated that 6% of voters voted “No” due to environmental concerns – enough to swing the vote.

    “The poll of 5,000 voters found that 52 percent would choose yes if a plan offered transit only. Of that group, 29 percent voted against Proposition 1, and among those people, 39 percent cited global warming as the main problem — hence, an overall 6 percent bloc, Riehle said.”

    The article also indicated that “Among “no” voters in general, taxes and costs played a bigger role than environmental issues, the poll found.”

    I find it surprising that voters voluntarily vote to increase their taxes. That’s actually quite impressive. If you had asked GVRD voters whether they wanted to pay Translink’s Vehicle Levy, my guess is that the voter response would have been a more resounding “No” than 55%. Given that the total car-tab burden for a $20,000 car would have increased from $60 annually to $220 annually, plus tolls, I am surprised that the “Yes” camp garnered roughly 45% support.

    ron c.

    November 9, 2007 at 12:43 am

  5. ron c.

    November 9, 2007 at 12:52 am

  6. I just came across a blog that I am going to add to my blogroll, but it does cast a new perspective on the debate in Seattle

    Here is a sample
    We believe bus advocates want to shaft us with a 2nd-class transit system while they keep driving.
    Seriously. We bus riders honestly feel that the pro-bus, anti-rail crowd — both Left and Right — are wealthy whites who will never use mass transit, and who want to give us more of the same crappy service we have now

    more at

    Stephen Rees

    November 10, 2007 at 9:20 pm

  7. The Monorail failed the third time around in part because wealthy corporate property owners along one of the major streets that was to be the route of the monorail opposed having the elevated guideway close to their buildings and plowed lots of money into the “No” campaign…

    ron c.

    November 16, 2007 at 2:37 am

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