On November 5th, Washington voters passed Initiative 976 — a ballot measure which cut car tab fees to a flat $30 per car. However, the alluring $30 car tabs may have unintended consequences for a group that has no control over their imple- mentation: high school students.
The initiative, brought forth by career anti-tax advocate Tim Eyman, passed a state- wide vote with 53 percent approval. Yet in King County, which hosts the state’s largest and most utilized public transit agencies, the initiative only reached 40 percent ap- proval.
I-976 limits car tab fees to around $30, regardless of any additional taxes that have been previously approved by voters. As a result, the Washington State Department of Transportation is projected to lose 1.9 billion dollars in revenue over the course of the next six years. An official State Fiscal Impact Statement, published shortly after the election, determined that Sound Transit could lose 11 percent of its annual revenue, and that Seattle will have cut around
110,000 hours of Metro bus service when the initiative takes effect.
A November 6 briefing from the office of King County Executive, Dow Constantine, estimated that there will be “$100 million cuts to Metro services between 2020 and 2025.”
The report also contained a map of the specific bus routes likely to face service reductions. These routes included the 3, 4, 8, and 48, all of which are highly utilized by Garfield students.
Bus service itself is not the only aspect of students’ usage of public transit that will be affected by I-976.
“Other cuts to programs that provide bus passes to high school students, and incentives to small businesses and nonprofits to provide ORCA Passes to employees would also be included,” the briefing stated.
The ORCA Program, which provides free bus passes to Seattle Public Schools students, underwent a massive expansion in the past year and a half. As of the end of the 2017-2018 school year, the program
was broadened to make 16,000 high school students eligible for free or reduced ORCA passes.
According to a Seattle Times article pub- lished in June of 2018, “The funding [for the program expansion] comes from $60 car tabs and a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax, approved by Seattle voters in a 2014 ballot measure.”
No current estimate in known of the total extent of reduction the ORCA Program could face when I-976 takes effect and the revenue brought in by the car tabs drops.
A potential ORCA Program reduction for the 2020-2021 school year could have consequences for students beyond Seattle. This is due to the fact that the passes are a “regional effort because they are good on King County Metro, they’re good on Sound Transit, they’re good on the Ferries…” said David Jackson, a public information officer with Sound Transit.
I-976 was scheduled to take effect on December 5, 2019 — exactly one month after the state’s election — but it has been put on hold pending a lawsuit filed by the City of Seattle and others. The date of effect remains unknown.