Opposition softened this year against a measure to increase Pierce Transit funding by raising local sales taxes.
But not enough to pass it.
The defeat Nov. 6 marked the second time voters have rejected the proposed 0.3-percentage point increase, which would have raised Tacoma’s tax to 9.8 percent. Proposition 1 failed this year by a vote of 100,943 to 100,239, compared to an identical measure rejected 73,914-62,290 in 2011.
The 2011 and 2012 results were at the same time similar and entirely disparate, Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson said.
Redistricting, new Pierce Transit boundaries and increased voter turnout make comparing the years like matching apples to oranges, he said.
“It’s kind of eerily identical to the results last time, but they’re totally different, because you’re talking about a totally different starting point, new boundaries; the voter turnout has impacts,” Erickson said.
However, some basic conclusions can be drawn from looking at maps of results from both years.
• Support in Tacoma seems to have held strong, with slight gains in the East Side and the South End.
• Residents of Lakewood, University Place and Gig Harbor were about half and half on Proposition 1, which reflected 2011 trends.
• The Puyallup area largely rejected the measure both years, but softened its opposition some this time.
• Opposition in Edgewood increased slightly this year.
• Rejection in Steilacoom and the part of Auburn served by the agency decreased slightly.
In debating the measure, opponents argued that the increase would drive business out of the county, especially automobile sales, and said Pierce Transit instead should do more to reduce employee costs. The agency told voters the revenue was needed to recover from the hit sales tax collections took in the recent recession.
When Pierce Transit’s boundaries were redrawn earlier this year, ridership, cost to operate in the areas and how communities voted on the 2011 tax proposal guided the redrawing, CEO Lynne Griffith said.
Bonney Lake, Sumner, Orting, Buckley, DuPont and some areas of unincorporated Pierce County were cut out when the lines were redrawn by a group of elected officials from throughout the county in a process that ended in May. Those areas largely rejected the Pierce Transit measure in 2011.
Last time, the boundaries had about 375,000 registered voters, which dropped to 275,000 this year. Voter turnout on the measure jumped from 136,204 in 2011 to 201,182 this election.
Pierce Transit has said failure of Proposition 1 means weekend service and buses after 7 p.m. will have to be cut. The agency’s board will determine how and when the cuts will be implemented, but Pierce Transit officials say they will have to be finished by spring 2014.
Previously, officials said they would need to cut annual service hours roughly in half, to 197,000, but Erickson said they might be able to keep some of those.
Pierce Transit is re-evaluating based on contract negotiations in August that resulted in employees covering more of their own medical costs. The agency’s broker also was able to get a better deal this year, and sales tax collections have improved some, Erickson said.
All that should make a difference, but not a drastic one, he added.
“We’re still going to be making cuts well above what we had to last time,” Erickson said.
After the measure was rejected in 2011, the agency cut about 200,000 of Pierce Transit’s 622,000 service hours and got rid of special service to events such as the Puyallup Fair.
The board will have a work session Dec. 14 to make decisions about what the new round of changes will look like.
Federal regulations require the agency to do outreach to low-income and minority populations, and to make sure cuts aren’t disproportionate in different socioeconomic areas, Erickson said.
Along with a timeline for implementing the cuts, the board will set dates to seek community input.
“We will absolutely have many, many sessions and opportunities for the public to review the kinds of cuts that are being discussed and speak to them, and there will be public hearings for them to make official comments as well,” Erickson said.
The results make discussions about transportation funding in general at the state level during the upcoming legislative session especially significant, Erickson said.
“We will look for every opportunity to be part of funding discussions, without a question,” Erickson said. “We’ve always been a part of those discussions in the past, but we’ll have a little more sense of urgency this time.”
High school student Livey Beha was affected by the cuts in 2011, and as the associated student body president at the School of the Arts in downtown Tacoma, she’s worried about how reduced service will impact future students.
She usually takes Route 1 to school and leaves at 6:20 a.m. to be driven to the bus stop. There wasn’t a stop within walking distance after the 2011 reductions.
Beha is a senior and won’t have to deal with the next round of cuts, but she’s concerned they could deter future out-of-district students from attending the school.
Even getting to school was a challenge for some after the first cuts; the school started providing bus service for students in Northeast Tacoma, Beha said.
She predicted a more difficult commute for the 30 percent of students who come from out of the district to attend the program.
“I feel like it will do a lot of damage to getting a wide variety of students to come to the school,” Beha said. “It’s just not realistic.”
Credit: Eric Lint
2012 Pierce Transit Proposition:
2011 Pierce Transit Proposition:
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268