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2014 General Election: Bonds and Levy Lid Lifts Struggle

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect the final election results, which were certified on November 26.

The Washington State general election results have officially been certified, so we now know the fates of all of the local ballot measures.

The measures ranged from the usual taxes and bonds to the slightly quixotic, such as a sixth vote on the Seattle monorail and an attempt to change Blaine’s name.

I’ve updated the MRSC Local Ballot Measure Database with the complete results – but let’s look broadly at how voters responded to different types of measures.

Voters Approved Charter Changes

Clark County approved a controversial home rule charter, which had gotten caught up in bigger political fights in the rapidly-growing region. Previous home rule votes had failed in 1982, 1997, and 2002. This leaves Spokane County as the only county over 400,000 people without home rule.

Tacoma approved most of its proposed charter amendments. Many were fairly straightforward, such as removing gender-specific language and updating anti-discrimination provisions, but others that granted additional powers to the city council were more contentious. Voters soundly rejected two amendments: one that would have increased term limits, and another that would have removed the residency requirement for city employees – although the requirement is not enforced.

Edgewood narrowly approved a citizen-led plan to switch from a council-manager to a mayor-council government. Eight other cities have switched from council-manager to mayor-council since 1973 – prior to Edgewood, the most recent was Federal Way in 2009.

Bonds Struggled

Most bond measures struggled to reach the required 60 percent. The two success stories were Spokane, which easily passed a $64 million bond to renovate Riverfront Park, and Poulsbo, where voters approved a $2.7 million fire district bond.

All four hospital bonds in Eastern Washington hovered around the 60 percent threshold, with two passing – one by just three votes! – and two failing. In Western Washington, voters defeated parks bonds in Bothell and Lynden, as well as a police bond in Kent.

Levies and Sales Taxes Fared Better

With so many levy and sales tax measures, I won’t go into the details – you can see a general breakdown below. Excess levies performed extremely well, led by the usual fire and EMS measures, and parks and transportation also fared well. Levy lid lifts weren’t quite as successful, even though they only required a simple majority. The failed lid lifts included four fire measures, three police, and one library.

Property Tax, Sales Tax, and Bond Measures, November 2014
Funding Source Passed Failed
Excess Levies 35 5
Sales & Use Taxes 5 1
Regular Levies 8 4
Levy Lid Lifts 10 8
Bonds 4 5

Mixed Results for Repeat Measures

Several jurisdictions tried again with previously failed measures, with mixed results:

  • Two of the largest fire districts in Pierce County – East Pierce Fire & Rescue and Graham Fire & Rescue – re-submitted levies that failed in August. Graham Fire & Rescue narrowly won passage, following a service cut in September. East Pierce scaled back its request by about 30 percent, but the measure still failed by a similar margin, forcing significant service cuts.
  • A public safety sales & use tax in Tonasket, which failed in 2012 and 2013, prevailed by a single vote.
  • Voters in and around Prosser approved the formation of the West Benton Regional Fire Authority, the first regional fire authority in Eastern Washington, after an earlier attempt failed in 2010.
  • Voters in San Juan County rejected a permanent EMS levy for the hospital district, after an earlier levy failed in February.
  • Voters in Farmington approved two excess levies that had failed in August.

Special Purpose District Changes

Voters approved a few additional changes to the state’s special purpose districts, including a new fire protection district in Stevens County and the merger of two fire districts in Thurston County. Skamania County rejected a proposed metropolitan park district.

Other Interesting Results

  • Electric City rejected a plan to raise property taxes and explore alternatives for providing police services, including potentially forming its own police department. Currently, the city contracts with Grand Coulee for police coverage, but the two neighbors have had differences over cost.
  • Ferndale rejected a one-cent excise tax on gasoline sales to pay for road maintenance, which was opposed by gas station owners. The measure would have exempted the first 60,000 gallons pumped per station each month. Two years ago voters approved a 0.2% sales tax increase for road maintenance, but a previous gas tax vote failed in 1993. The tax is only available to jurisdictions near the Canadian border, and most of the eligible cities in Whatcom County have implemented it.
  • Voters in Seattle approved a combination of sales taxes and vehicle license fees to expand bus service after the failure of a similar measure at the county level in April. Seattle also approved a voluntary, city-subsidized preschool program that will charge tuition on a sliding scale, with lower-income children receiving the education for free.
  • And finally, Blaine chose by a 2-to-1 ratio to retain its current name rather than change it to “Blaine Harbor,” which some residents hoped might generate economic development and attract Canadian tourists by highlighting its waterfront setting. Opponents cited the city’s history and said more tangible economic development efforts were needed. Plus, the city is actually located on Drayton Harbor.

Are there any results that struck you as particularly interesting? Leave a comment below or email me.

Photo courtesy of Adam Jones.

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About Steve Hawley

Steve joined MRSC in July 2014 and is responsible for writing, editing, and conducting research for many of MRSC’s website resources, with a particular focus on local government finance, budgeting, ballot measures, and procurement. He has a broad communications and public policy background with over a decade of local government and nonprofit experience.