A state lawmaker, from Clark County down by the Columbia River, once suggested that the solution to our broken politics was to quarantine the people from you-know-where.
“The people of King County are of a heterogeneous, heterologous, heteronomous and heteromorphistic nature,” alliterated Rep. A.W. Clark, in what rated as smack talk back in 1937. It causes “economic and political antagonisms and strifes” which are “not conducive to the peace and well-being of the citizens of the state.”
He wasn’t wrong, was he? His idea was to split the state’s biggest county off into its own new state, dubbed the “State of King.”
Fast forward 82 years, to the anti-democratic election we just had. I rise to second Clark’s call: It’s time for King County to secede.
The old pitch for a breakup was that rural counties were sick of city liberals meddling in their business. But this election was exactly the reverse — the rest of the state is meddling in ours.
The results on Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 are an affront to basic principles of choose-your-own-destiny democracy. It’s not just that I don’t like an outcome — that happens every election. What’s different this time is that voters from places like Okanogan and Grays Harbor County decided for us that we can’t tax ourselves to build the light-rail system we want.
Tim Eyman’s third $30-car-tab measure has passed statewide. It lowers tabs to $30 and also repeals most of Sound Transit’s car taxes, which are only paid across a three-county zone in Puget Sound.
But crucially, I-976 isn’t passing in that zone. As of Friday evening, I-976 is failing in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, combined, by a 51 percent “no” vote to 49 percent “yes” (and the “no” margin is likely to grow). So it’s likely also failing in the Sound Transit taxing district, which covers the more urban areas of those three counties (the final precinct-level data won’t be available for a couple weeks).
This means the post-election spin — that the public lost trust in Sound Transit because it uses a supposedly deceptive car valuation scheme — is a stretch. A majority of the voters who actually pay these taxes decided they were fine with them. It was the rest of the state that decided for us that we didn’t want them.
The car valuation system is used in only one place — in the light-rail district (the rest of you pay flat-rate car tab fees, if you pay extra fees at all). Wouldn’t those of us who are in this supposedly unfair scheme have rebelled more than this if we felt we were being abused?
Now it’s true that both Pierce and Snohomish counties voted with Eyman, to repeal the taxes. Their votes were overwhelmed by King voting heavily the other way. This is hardly the first time we’ve had this same rift between neighbors — which brings me back to the “State of King.”
It’s time to cut those two counties out of the light-rail project. It’s not worth the endless political battling and decades of wasted resources on repeated votes just like this one.
This would mean scrapping the planned light-rail extensions to downtown Tacoma and Everett. If they don’t want them, what can you do? Pierce County especially has shown no willingness to pay for rail (the county voted no on the project in 2008, and then again in 2016, even when it funded the Tacoma line). Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier says he even voted for Initiative 976 this year, knowing it would blow a $7 billion hole in Sound Transit’s budget.
“If I had my preference today, I would dedicate the [Interstate 5] HOV lane to buses, and get truly quick transit to Seattle tomorrow, and save the cost [of rail],” he said.
Deal! Pierce County, you get a bus. Billions saved, problem solved all around.
Seriously, about 70 percent of Sound Transit’s taxes are raised in King County anyway, and voters here are OK with them (King voters were rejecting Eyman’s measure by 18 percentage points). So why keep fighting with people who either aren’t willing to pay, or don’t want mass transit, or both?
King County should take over over the light-rail district and float a new car-tax measure for rail by itself, restoring as much of the revenue lost this week as the law allows. It would pass. Then we could get on with the mass transit, which we desperately need and want. And Pierce County could have its lower taxes, which it wants.
Free the State of King! Let us tax ourselves to oblivion if we wish.
Plus take it from me, King County is only going to get more heteronomous and all the rest that that guy chided us for back in ’37. So when it comes to mass transit, maybe the region could finally settle on one strategy — which is that it might be best to just leave us alone?
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.