Pierce County voters snubbed a request for a sales tax increase to help fund bus service Tuesday.
Preliminary returns in the mail-in election showed Pierce Transit Proposition 1 failing, 45 percent yes to just under 55 percent no.
The result means a phased-in reduction in the agency’s service hours could begin this fall, with 35 percent slashed by early next year.
The measure, which would have increased the local sales tax by three-tenths of 1 percent, needed a simple majority to pass.
More ballots in the all-mail election will be counted in coming days, but supporters conceded the message in the nearly 122,000 votes tabulated Tuesday night was “no.”
“I’m disappointed, but not incredibly surprised by this,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, co-chairwoman of the Save Our Buses campaign. “We knew this was going to be a heavy lift,” given the anti-tax message voters delivered in November, she added.
The agency was duty-bound to ask, Strickland said, so it could continue providing bus service to the young, the elderly, the poor, students, the handicapped and commuters.
She and Save Our Buses campaign manager Justin Leighton both expressed sadness at the result and said they thought they’d done everything they could – from rallies to phone bank calls – to get out the vote.
Opponents of the measure were jubilant.
“We’re pleased with the results,” said Pete Chamberlain, one of the members of the grass-roots No on Prop 1 campaign. “The people of Pierce County have been very generous. It’s just the wrong time for more taxes.”
Before the agency seeks more money from voters, it needs to “get its costs under control,” he added.
Pierce Transit wanted the sales tax hike to shore up finances left sagging heavily by the recession. It would have raised an estimated $30 million a year for the public agency, which served some 18 million riders on its local and Sound Transit routes in 2009.
It would have been a 50 percent increase. Pierce County residents now pay a 0.6 percent sales tax to the transit agency.
The agency says that without the additional money, it must slash bus service by some 35 percent by mid-2012.
Plans call for cuts to begin in October, Chief Executive Lynne Griffith said.
Directors have a study session scheduled Feb. 28 to talk about what’s next. They must approve any cuts.
It’s too early to speculate whether the agency might come back to voters with a different proposal in coming months, Strickland and Griffith said.
The proposed “reduction plan” calls for axing 217,000 hours of annual service within a year.
The likely future: Passengers will have to wait longer for buses on heavily traveled routes; coaches will come and go less frequently to and from outlying areas; and some routes will be eliminated. In addition, bus service will begin later on some routes, and weekend service will be cut by 50 percent. Special service to events such as the Fourth of July Freedom Fair and the Puyallup Fair will be eliminated.
If such cuts are approved by the board, some 220 of the agency’s roughly 1,000 employees will be laid off.
Griffith and Strickland both said they understand voters’ reluctance to OK more taxes.
“I think we’re in a real tough climate right now, a pretty nasty economic recession,” Griffith said. “A lot of people are hurting; a lot more are going to hurt without some bus service.”
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659 kris.sherman @thenewstribune.com
Returns as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday
Yes No Percent yes Result
Pierce Transit sales tax 55,266 66,663 45.33% Failing
Peninsula schools construction bond 10,310 7,772 57.02% Failing*
Lakewood/Uplace fire district merger 7,229 1,584 82.03% Passing
*Requires 60 percent margin to pass
Inside: $78 million Peninsula school bond falling shy of 60% supermajority. A6
Voters overwhelmingly approve Lakewood fire merger. A6
Online: Check Political Buzz this evening for updated returns. blog.thenewstribune.com/politics
News Tribune staff