Voters still rejecting Prop 1, new initiative announced Wednesday

by: Alison Grande Updated:

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SEATTLE - King County voters are still rejecting a proposed sales tax hike and an increase in the car tab fee to pay for roads and to prevent cuts in Metro transit bus service.

In returns updated Wednesday afternoon, the measure was failing 54.51 percent to 45.49 percent.

Proposition 1 seeks a $60 car-tab fee and a one-tenth-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax. The measure would raise about $130 million a year for 10 years, with 60 percent going to Metro Transit for bus service and 40 percent to pay for roads.

A Seattle group says it will file a citywide initiative to raise money for bus service following Tuesdays' apparent defeat of a King County measure that would have prevented Metro Transit cuts in exchange for a sales tax hike and an increase to car-tab fees.

The group — called Friends of Transit — said Wednesday that by the end of the week, they will file an initiative that would increase Seattle's property tax by $0.22 per $1,000 of assessed value between 2015 and 2021. The group estimates the tax hike would generate $25 million a year for transit services.

The group needs over 20,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Friends of Transit founder Ben Schiendelman says Seattle contracts with King County Metro for roughly 45,000 hours of bus service.

"We welcome and encourage efforts that would protect bus service and avoid major disruption to our riders,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement.” Unfortunately, in the near term, we will still need to transmit major service cuts if Proposition 1 fails.

"While King County Metro works as a regional system that moves people across jurisdictions throughout the county, reflecting the truly regional nature of our economy, the notion of cities buying bus service is not a new idea. We already have a number of cities and businesses contracting for service."

King County officials said that without the new money, they'll be forced to cut 16 percent of its current bus service, or about 550,000 hours, to balance its budget. The agency recently scaled back those figures slightly, after initially saying they would have to cut 17 percent.

Jacob Struiksma is legally blind. Several of the bus routes he uses will be eliminated. When he heard the measure was failing by 10 percent, “It made me mad. I mean my life is very difficult,” said Struiksma. He also worried cuts would make him more vulnerable, stuck waiting for the bus.

Measure supporters say those cuts will hurt working families, seniors and students who rely heavily on buses to get to work, school and services. People who don't use the buses would benefit from money for road fixes and other improvements and that preserving transit will help keep more cars off the roads, supporters say.

King County Executive Dow Constantine reacted to the failing measure, “Voters are not rejecting Metro, they’re rejecting this particular means of funding Metro,” said Constantine. He announced at the Prop 1 election party that 72 routes would need to be eliminated, another 84 reduced. He vowed to keep working on transportation funding.

Meanwhile, opponents urge voters to reject the measure, saying the agency has problems with "irresponsible spending" and should rein in "excessive operating costs" before asking voters for more money.

Prop 1 opponent Dick Paylor said, “The biggest group of ‘no’ voters are the ones who said Metro you get enough money from the tax payers. You need to figure out how to run your business.”

If the measure is officially approved, sales tax would go up a tenth of a percent to 9.6 percent in Seattle and many cities in the county. The car tab tax would be set at $60 per vehicle with a $20 rebate for low-income people. The measure would cost the average household about $11 a month.

Proposition 1 is backed by a number of labor, environmental, civic and community groups, including the League of Women Voters, the Downtown Seattle Association, Sierra Club and mayors of a number of cities in King County.

A leading opposition group, Families for Sustainable Transit, lists the support of many Republican legislative districts, some business groups and others. The Seattle Times editorial board has come out against the measure.

County elections officials estimate a 38 percent turnout in the special election. All ballots are required to be postmarked by April 22.

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