Ballot Measure Results from the 2019 General Election
November 12, 2019
Category: Public Transit , Housing , Elections , Forms of Government-City
Another November, another election cycle in the books. While the votes are still being tallied and won’t officially be certified until November 26, we already know the results of most of the races.
While Initiative 976 (I-976) and local mayoral and city council races may have dominated the headlines, I’m here to take a look at the many local ballot measures across Washington State — 134 of them, by my count. While I can’t possibly write about them all, here are some of the highlights that caught my attention. Whenever possible, I’ve also included links to local news articles for more information.
Once the election results are certified, I’ll add them to our ever-growing Local Ballot Measure Database.
Initiative 976 — $30 Car Tabs
It appears that I-976 has passed, which would slash state and local transportation funding by reducing or eliminating many vehicle license fees. (See this helpful summary from the Association of Washington Cities.) Of particular note, transportation benefit districts (TBDs) will no longer be able to collect vehicle license fees, which will have a significant impact on the transportation budgets of about 60 cities.
The state transportation budget would also be hard-hit, affecting multiple transportation accounts and likely throwing a wrench into next year’s legislative session. Sound Transit will also be affected, impacting transit projects in the Seattle area.
Seattle and King County have already announced their intentions to sue and seek an injunction preventing the initiative from taking effect while they challenge its constitutionality.
Stay tuned for more information on this topic, but in the meantime I encourage anyone who might be impacted by I-976 to register for this upcoming webinar, Responding to the Passage of I-976, hosted by the Association of Washington Cities.
Voters in Port Angeles approved a 0.1% affordable housing sales tax, which the city will use as a “qualifying local tax” to double its state sales tax credit under SHB 1406. Port Angeles will become the third city to approve this sales tax option, following Ellensburg and Olympia, and just the seventh city with a “qualifying local tax” of any sort. A similar proposal in Stevenson appears to have narrowly failed.
Almost all qualifying local taxes require voter approval, which means other cities hoping to pass a qualifying local tax must do so at the February or April special elections, before the July 27, 2020 deadline for SHB 1406.
In Federal Way, voters are approving a citizen initiative to enact various tenant protections and impose additional requirements on landlords. According to the Seattle Times, this makes Federal Way "the state’s third city with 'good cause' eviction legislation, a policy to prevent landlords from evicting tenants or not renewing their leases without cause — nearly 40 years after Seattle passed such legislation. In October, the Burien City Council approved its own version of the law."
Governance and charter changes
Voters in Vancouver overwhelmingly adopted a number of charter changes, including capping elected official salary increases at the annual Consumer Price Index-West Region (CPI-W West) rate (unless a higher increase is approved by voters); clarifying residency requirements and processes for filling council vacancies; modifying procedures for entering into contracts and reviewing bills, invoices, and claims; and simplifying publication requirements for ordinances.
In Spokane, voters easily approved charter amendments prohibiting the city from imposing income taxes and requiring all collective bargaining negotiations to conducted publicly.
Voters in Mukilteo overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to change the form of government from mayor-council to council-manager.
Parks and recreation
In Shoreline, a proposed $103 million bond measure to build a new aquatic and recreation center, with the catchy acronym of “ShARCC,” appears to have failed with about 53% of the vote. And in Camas, almost 90% of voters rejected a proposed $78 million bond measure to build a new aquatic center and improve sports facilities.
Voters in Duvall, George, Gig Harbor, and Oak Harbor all approved 10-year, 0.2% transportation benefit district sales taxes. TBD sales taxes are unaffected by I-976 and, if the initiative is upheld, will be the primary means of funding TBDs from here on out.
Other capital improvements
Voters in Langley approved a $4 million bond measure to make water and sewer repairs, while voters in Long Beach approved a $600,000 bond measure for a new fire truck. In Cosmopolis, a $3 million bond measure to construct a new city hall and municipal building is falling just short of the required 60% supermajority.
Advisory votes: Fireworks and marijuana
In advisory votes, voters in Arlington and Covington supported fireworks bans, while voters in Orting opposed a ban. Meanwhile, Federal Way asked voters whether the existing ban on local marijuana businesses should be lifted. As of this writing, about 55% of the voters are supporting the existing ban. This is the second time city residents have opposed marijuana businesses in an advisory vote, following an earlier vote in 2015.
Several counties had public safety and criminal justice measures on the ballot, with good results. Voters in Asotin County easily approved a 0.3% public safety sales tax to build a new jail, while voters in Ferry County and in Grant County also approved similar 0.3% public safety sales taxes.
Meanwhile, Grays Harbor, Thurston, and Okanogan counties were the first to take advantage of new legislation allowing counties to increase their E-911 sales tax rates from 0.1% to 0.2%. Grays Harbor and Thurston County has previously had a 0.1% sales tax, while Okanogan County had not imposed this tax previously. Voters easily approved all three measures.
And in King County, voters approved a six-year extension of the countywide EMS levy.
In Whitman County, voters are approving a levy lid lift for the county road fund, to pay for maintenance and improvements in unincorporated areas. The county has had to cut back its public works staff and trim its services in recent years because property tax and gas tax revenues have not been keeping up with inflation.
Other county measures
In San Juan County, a levy lid lift for county services is just barely passing, and voters there easily approved a charter amendment authorizing the use of biennial budgets. Several counties have switched to a biennial budget system in recent years, including Pierce County (which adopted a similar charter amendment last year) and Jefferson County (beginning in 2020).
And in an advisory vote, voters in Snohomish County are favoring a fireworks ban within the unincorporated urban growth area.
Voters in North Mason Regional Fire Authority are passing a $10 million bond measure to build a new headquarters fire station in Belfair. In Benton County, a $3 million bond for Fire District No. 1 is passing with about 62% of the vote, following a failed attempt in August that garnered about 55%.
In Pend Oreille County, voters approved the annexation of Metaline Falls to Pend Oreille Fire District No. 2, while voters in Fire District No. 6 approved a merger into South Pend Oreille Fire & Rescue.
Voters in East Jefferson Fire Rescue approved a proposition to establish five commissioner districts. And there were plenty of levy lid lifts and EMS levies on the ballot as well — too many to write about — but they generally fared well.
Voters in Vashon and Maury Islands are easily approving the formation of a new public hospital district, after an earlier proposal failed 13 years ago.
A $29 million hospital bond in Whitman County is narrowly trailing as of this writing, falling just short of both the required 60% threshold and the minimum validation (voter turnout) requirements. However, it’s possible this result could change as more votes are counted. The proposed bond would pay for a new electronic records system, a new outpatient facility, and other capital improvements.
In Klickitat County, a levy lid lift for the Skyline Hospital is trailing.
Voters in the Lopez Island Library District approved a levy lid lift, while voters in Union Gap approved a proposal to annex the city to the Yakima County Rural Library District, which will allow the city to build a new library. The old Union Gap library was razed several years ago due to black mold.
In Cowlitz County, a proposal to form a new rural partial-county library district near Woodland was overwhelmingly defeated. Local residents can continue to access the City of Woodland library by paying an optional fee.
Several park district bond measures and levies — all of which require 60% approval — are passing, including a $3 million bond measure for the Lynden regional park district as well as levies for the Tanglewilde Park District (Lacey), Coyle-Thorndyke Park District (Jefferson County), Vashon-Maury Park District, and Northshore Park and Recreation Service Area (Bothell). Both the Tanglewilde and Coyle-Thorndyke levies had failed in special elections earlier this year.
However, a bond measure and a 6-year levy are both failing in the East County Park and Recreation District (Monroe), and voters on Shaw Island overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to form a new park and recreation district.
Voters in the Port of Port Townsend are approving an industrial development district (IDD) levy. This levy authority (RCW 53.36.160) is a bit unusual and authorizes a maximum levy up to about $15 million over a 20-year period, not to exceed 45 cents per $1,000 AV in any year. Each year, the port commissioners must decide how much of the levy amount (if any) to collect for the upcoming year. According to the district, it’s the first time voters in this state have approved such a levy.
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