Drive through pretty much any neighborhood in Snohomish County and you’ll find a wellspring of support for Initiative 976.
Voters from Arlington to Brier and all but one city in between are embracing the measure imposing a $30 cap on most car tab fees and erasing a vehicle excise tax Sound Transit is using to fund extension of light rail service to Everett.
It was passing with 59.7% of the vote countywide early Friday. Support eclipsed 60 percent in several communities and reached 70.6% in Darrington, according to an analysis of precinct returns by The Herald.
The measure is ahead within the boundaries of Sound Transit in Snohomish County where in 2016 voters backed the $54 billion light rail expansion plan known as ST3 and its suite of tax hikes to carry it out.
In Lynnwood, for example, voters were solidly behind ST3. Now, I-976 is passing with 58.5% in spite of repeated warning by initiative opponents that it would likely delay getting train service north of the city.
Everett voters were evenly divided on the 2016 mass transit measure. They are enthusiastically embracing the initiative; it was passing with 61.2 percent.
Mountlake Terrace is another community where voters in 2019 appear to be acting counter to the interests expressed in 2016. Then, 58% supported Sound Transit expansion. Now, 51% are siding with I-976.
“It is just a wholesale repudiation of the ST3 vote because now the voters know the truth,” said initiative sponsor Tim Eyman who made surging Sound Transit vehicle fees a central tenet of his campaign.
A leading opponent disagreed.
“The voters did not repudiate Sound Transit with this vote,” said Andrew Villeneuve, founder and executive director of Northwest Progressive Institute. “Many said we feel our vehicle fees are too high and this was a means to lower it so they took it. Don’t assume it is a repudiation of Sound Transit. The ballot title didn’t say anything about Sound Transit.”
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin played an active role in the campaign against the initiative, even appearing in one of its television ads. She had stressed its passage would eliminate a source of money used by the city to do some road repairs and likely make residents wait longer for light rail.
“I understand what happened. I think (voters) were frustrated with their car tabs. You get your car tab bill and it’s so high,” she said. “I can’t tell you I’m not incredibly sad about what happened.”
Edmonds is the exception in all of this. It is the only city served by the regional transit authority where the initiative is failing as 55.9% oppose it. This is in line with what its electorate did in 2016 when 54.3% backed ST3.
“I think people here understand the long-term needs of the region when it comes to transportation,” Mayor Dave Earling said Friday upon hearing the figures.
Earling, who serves on Sound Transit’s board of directors, didn’t consider it a referendum on the regional authority. Rather, he said, residents ride buses and Sounder trains and understood fees collected from the local transportation benefit district paid for repaving roads.
Eyman, upon hearing the numbers for that city, responded: “Edmonds, you get to live by a state law that says your taxes are going to be lower.”
The initiative’s popularity in Snohomish County is greater outside the boundaries of the transit district.
While Darrington led the way with its 70.6% support, Granite Falls wasn’t far behind at 69.4% followed by Gold Bar, Marysville and Sultan hovering at or above 67%. Index is the only town, other than Edmonds, in which a majority is opposing the measure.
There are differences between the 2016 and 2019 votes which must be weighed when evaluating the results.
For example, turnout this year will be nearly half of what it was in 2016, when a presidential election was on the ballot. The electorates are not the same. This year’s will trend towards older and more fiscally conservative voters. In presidential elections, more younger and first-time voters participate.
With days of ballot counting remaining, it’s too soon to craft a complete narrative.
“This is an election in progress,” Villeneuve said.
Election results are due to be certified Nov. 26.