Novel Reason for Transportation Levy Loss: Fee Wasn’t High Enough

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People throughout the City of Seattle are speculating about why 60% of Seattle voters repudiated a $60 car tab fee increase (see Shocking Development: Seattle Voters Defeat Transportation Tax Measure for background).

But perhaps the most, uh, let’s call it “novel” explanation is the fee should have been higher ($80) and bolder (included more streetcar expansion planning).  That’s the suggestion from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

The Seattle Times’ Lynn Thompson and Mike Lindblom report:

“Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on Wednesday rejected suggestions that the resounding defeat of the $60 car-tab measure was a repudiation of his walk-bike-ride transportation priorities.

Instead, he blamed the 60 percent no vote on the City Council for not placing on the ballot his proposal for an $80 car-tab fee. That fee would have been collected indefinitely and could have funded a network of streetcar lines.

“I wanted a bolder transit package to get rail out to the neighborhoods. The City Council chose to fund a lot of smaller projects. It wasn’t clear to people what they were getting for their money,” McGinn said.

McGinn on Wednesday mused that perhaps a package with a strong rail proposal plus more money for basic street maintenance might appeal to the public.”

Times editorial board member Joni Balter says “Yipes. McGinn needs to get out a little bit more and talk to people. . . .Real people who have to pay the cost of living in an increasingly unaffordable city.”

Thompson and Lindblom also report that several City council members commented that in hindsight perhaps the measure should have directed more funding to road maintenance and less to alternative modes.  Council members don’t seem inclined to revisit and rework the measure any time soon, and will instead look to the State legislature “to find other ways to fund transportation improvements.”  Good luck with that – the Legislature convenes in November for a special session to address a $2B shortfall.

If the City Council does not rework the proposal any time soon, it’s their constituents and businesses who will lose.  There are plenty of basic road, transit, and bicycle-pedestrian needs, and the backlog of projects will only grow.  Figure out what people are willing to pay, and what they want.  Even if it’s only a $20 car tab increase, which would fund fewer projects, at least some projects will advance and some number of people will travel quicker and safer (regardless of mode) and goods movement will benefit. For better or worse, now might not be the time to expand the streetcar system.

Officials not suggesting new try on car-tab fee,” Seattle Times

The tone-deaf mayor, Mike McGinn,” Seattle Times