Public Planning

Seattle voters want a bolder 2024 transportation levy with close to $2 billion in investments, NPI poll finds

In the weeks between now and August 6th, the dead­line to place propo­si­tions on the Novem­ber 2024 gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot, the Seat­tle City Coun­cil has a crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant deci­sion to make: how much tax author­i­ty to request from vot­ers to fund trans­porta­tion improve­ments across Wash­ing­ton State’s largest municipality.

For most of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, the city has relied on levy dol­lars to sup­port the essen­tial work of the Seat­tle Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion. Seat­tle vot­ers passed an nine-year “Bridg­ing the Gap” levy in 2006, when Greg Nick­els was may­or, and then a nine-year Levy to Move Seat­tle in 2015, when Ed Mur­ray was may­or. The lat­ter of those is set to expire at the end of this year, and city lead­er­ship rec­og­nizes that a renew­al is essen­tial. But what should the size of this 2024 levy be? What’s the opti­mal lev­el of invest­ment for a grow­ing city with a long, long, long list of trans­porta­tion needs?

Our team was eager to inves­ti­gate those ques­tions, so we teamed up with our friends at Seat­tle Neigh­bor­hood Green­ways, the Sier­ra Club, the Tran­sit Rid­ers Union, Trans­porta­tion Choic­es Coali­tion, Dis­abil­i­ty Rights Wash­ing­ton, Lid I‑5, Sight­line Insti­tute, and sev­er­al addi­tion­al part­ners to gauge vot­ers’ views. We drew on our extreme­ly suc­cess­ful years­long part­ner­ship with Change Research to bring the project to fruition. 

The firm, which con­duct­ed all of our high­ly accu­rate 2021 and 2023 Seat­tle polls, inter­viewed 647 like­ly Novem­ber 2024 vot­ers in the Emer­ald City last week, from April 30th to May 3rd, 2024. Dynam­ic Online Sam­pling was used by the polling team to attain a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple. All respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed online and the sur­vey was con­duct­ed in Eng­lish. It has a mod­eled mar­gin of error of 4.1%.

The results of our levy-relat­ed ques­tions were quite defin­i­tive. Seat­tle vot­ers cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly want to be pre­sent­ed with a bold 2024 trans­porta­tion levy that has a high­er lev­el of invest­ment than what May­or Bruce Har­rell has pro­posed so far. 25% of our respon­dents favored an option with an addi­tion­al $300 mil­lion, while 54% — a major­i­ty — favored an option with an addi­tion­al $500 mil­lion. A mere 21% are opposed to renew­ing the levy, even after hear­ing argu­ments against its continuation. 

This sur­vey yield­ed a lot of very infor­ma­tive data and we’re hap­py to be able to share it with the com­mu­ni­ty. Let’s take a look at our levy-relat­ed ques­tions in the order that our respon­dents saw them and exam­ine the answers that we received. 

We began our line of inquiry by ask­ing respon­dents if they want­ed to renew the levy:

QUESTION: In 2015, Seat­tle vot­ers approved a $930 mil­lion trans­porta­tion levy called Move Seat­tle to improve safe­ty, main­tain and repair our streets and bridges, and enhance trans­porta­tion choic­es. The levy costs the medi­an-priced Seat­tle prop­er­ty own­er about $24 per month and is set to expire at the end of 2024. The levy is the largest sin­gle source of fund­ing for the Seat­tle Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (SDOT) bud­get. Do you sup­port or oppose renew­ing the levy?

RESPONSES:

  • Sup­port: 71% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 41%
    • Some­what sup­port: 31%
  • Oppose: 22%
    • Some­what oppose: 11%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 12%
  • Not sure: 6%

More than sev­en in ten respon­dents expressed sup­port for renew­ing the levy. That’s a real­ly good start­ing place for a bal­lot mea­sure cam­paign, espe­cial­ly one that would empow­er a large local­i­ty to levy prop­er­ty tax­es for an essen­tial pub­lic service. 

Next, we asked about vot­ers’ priorities:

QUESTION: Please indi­cate whether the inclu­sion of any of the fol­low­ing pri­or­i­ties in the trans­porta­tion levy would make a dif­fer­ence to your vote.

Answer choic­es were much more like­ly to vote yes, some­what more like­ly to vote yes, would­n’t make a dif­fer­ence, some­what more like­ly to vote no, or much more like­ly to vote no. The num­bers below are the total who said they’d either be more like­ly to be vote yes or they’d be more like­ly to vote no. The pri­or­i­ties we test­ed are sort­ed by pop­u­lar­i­ty, from great­est net sup­port to least.

RESPONSES:

  • 85% yes / 2% no: Repair bridges in poor condition
  • 81% yes / 3% no: Repave streets in poor condition
  • 77% yes / 5% no: Improve safe­ty on Seattle’s most dan­ger­ous streets like Rainier Ave, Auro­ra Ave, and MLK Way S
  • 77% yes / 5% no: Build side­walks where they are missing
  • 74% yes / 4% no: Invest in Safe Routes to School to help kids get to school safe­ly when walk­ing, bik­ing, and rolling

  • 73% yes / 6% no: Improve safe­ty around light rail sta­tions and strength­en sta­tion accessibility
  • 69% yes / 9% no: Iden­ti­fy and invest in projects which pri­or­i­tize the needs of his­tor­i­cal­ly under-served neigh­bor­hoods such as Rainier Beach, the Inter­na­tion­al Dis­trict, and South Park
  • 67% yes / 14% no: Cre­ate pedes­tri­an streets where peo­ple can eat, shop, and meet with friends at the heart of every Seat­tle neighborhood
  • 65% yes / 12% no: Lim­it auto­mo­bile traf­fic in Pike Place Mar­ket to open up more space for ven­dors, seat­ing, art, or music while still allow­ing for busi­ness load­ing and unloading
  • 59% yes / 8% no: Improve trails like the Burke Gilman Trail, Alki Trail, and Chief Sealth Trail

  • 55% yes / 10% no: Mit­i­gate dis­place­ment caused by new con­struc­tion of light rail sta­tions in Chinatown/International Dis­trict and the Rainier Valley
  • 54% yes / 19% no: Add more bus lanes to make bus­es run more reli­ably and frequently
  • 48% yes / 14% no: Add a walk­ing and bik­ing trail along part of Lake Wash­ing­ton Boulevard
  • 43% yes / 16% no: Increase bicy­cle stor­age options in neigh­bor­hood busi­ness dis­tricts and at pub­lic schools

It’s strik­ing that the least pop­u­lar pri­or­i­ty we test­ed still had net sup­port of twen­ty-sev­en points. These results demon­strate that Seat­tle vot­ers deeply val­ue free­dom of mobil­i­ty and robust trans­porta­tion options that lib­er­ate them from being forced to drive. 

Our data sug­gests that May­or Har­rell and SDOT Direc­tor Greg Spotts were right on when they said they heard a mes­sage of Yes, and… in response to their first levy draft, which pro­posed $1.35 bil­lion in invest­ments. None of the pri­or­i­ties we test­ed had neg­a­tive net sup­port. Most vot­ers want a levy that’s mul­ti­modal to the max. 

Har­rel­l’s revised draft upped the scope of the levy to $1.45 bil­lion in invest­ments; you can watch the press con­fer­ence and read the high­lights from the new draft here.

Seat­tle vot­ers would like to see an even greater lev­el of invest­ment, how­ev­er. That was abun­dant­ly clear from the respons­es we received to our next question:

QUESTION: The Seat­tle City Coun­cil must decide how much rev­enue to raise before it sub­mits a propo­si­tion to renew the trans­porta­tion levy to vot­ers, and what that rev­enue will pay for. The fol­low­ing are two pos­si­ble paths for the Council:

  • Option A: Raise $1.7 bil­lion by ask­ing vot­ers to autho­rize an eight-year prop­er­ty tax levy begin­ning in 2025 at approx­i­mate­ly $0.64 per $1,000 in assessed value
  • Option B: Raise $1.9 bil­lion by ask­ing vot­ers to autho­rize an eight-year prop­er­ty tax begin­ning in 2025 at approx­i­mate­ly $0.72 per $1,000 in assessed value

Com­pared to Option A, Option B would:

  • Build 180 more blocks of sidewalks
  • Improve the tran­sit expe­ri­ence on two more often-delayed bus routes
  • Imple­ment safe­ty improve­ments on five more high-crash corridors
  • Com­plete thou­sands of addi­tion­al safe­ty, mobil­i­ty, and main­te­nance improvements

Both options would repave 38% of the busiest streets in poor con­di­tion and repair three bridges.

Which option do you prefer?

RESPONSES:

  • Pre­fer Option A ($1.7 bil­lion): 26% 
    • Strong­ly pre­fer Option A: 8%
    • Some­what pre­fer Option A: 18%
  • Pre­fer Option B ($1.9 bil­lion): 54% 
    • Some­what pre­fer Option B: 28%
    • Strong­ly pre­fer Option B: 26%
  • Not sure: 21% 

We then fol­lowed up that ques­tion with a final ques­tion in which we pre­sent­ed our respon­dents with argu­ments for each option as well as argu­ments for not pass­ing a levy at all. As you’ll see, the anti-tax, pro-aus­ter­i­ty per­spec­tive was rep­re­sent­ed, and respon­dents had the choice of say­ing they were opposed to renew­ing the levy. 

QUESTION: Pro­po­nents of Option A say it is bet­ter because it costs less than Option B while still deliv­er­ing sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments in main­te­nance, safe­ty, and mobil­i­ty. They say in an increas­ing­ly unaf­ford­able city we should be mod­est with what we are ask­ing of tax­pay­ers and that Option A only costs the own­er of an $866,000 home an addi­tion­al $20 per month.

Pro­po­nents of Option B say we should invest more to accel­er­ate progress towards keep­ing peo­ple safe on our streets, main­tain­ing our crum­bling infra­struc­ture, and pro­vid­ing options to avoid traf­fic. They say these expand­ed projects would help Seat­tle reach its cli­mate action goals, right his­toric inequities, and cre­ate an acces­si­ble city for kids, elders, and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. They say that all these improve­ments are a bar­gain for only cost­ing the own­er of an $866,000 home an addi­tion­al $27 per month.

Oppo­nents of both options say the Seat­tle Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion hasn’t done a good job with its stew­ard­ship of the dol­lars from the 2015 levy, and that both options are too expen­sive in an unaf­ford­able city. They argue we should cut trans­porta­tion projects, or per­haps come back in a future year with a small­er proposal.

Hav­ing heard argu­ments for each option, which do you prefer?

RESPONSES:

  • Pre­fer Option A ($1.7 bil­lion): 25% 
    • Strong­ly pre­fer Option A: 8%
    • Some­what pre­fer Option A: 17%
  • Pre­fer Option B ($1.9 bil­lion): 54% 
    • Some­what pre­fer Option B: 26%
    • Strong­ly pre­fer Option B: 28%
  • Nei­ther — Opposed to renew­ing the Move Seat­tle trans­porta­tion levy: 21%

Notice that even though two out of three para­graphs pre­sent­ed argu­ments for either a small­er levy or no levy, with only one para­graph mak­ing the case for a big­ger levy, there was almost no move­ment among our respon­dents at all. A few peo­ple became more enthu­si­as­tic about Option B… and that was about it. 

And, recall that ear­li­er on, 71% of our respon­dents said they sup­port­ed renew­ing the levy and 22% were opposed. Here, at the end of our set of levy ques­tions, 21% are opposed and 79% pre­fer a lev­el of invest­ment of $1.7 bil­lion or $1.9 bil­lion, both amounts that exceed what May­or Har­rell has proposed. 

The key take­away is that Seat­tle vot­ers aren’t repulsed in the slight­est by the prospect of a bold­er set of invest­ments. To the con­trary: they’re intrigued and supportive. 

Why? Well, Seat­tle vot­ers are smart. They under­stand the log­ic of pool­ing resources to get things done. And, as I men­tioned, they val­ue free­dom of mobility. 

Here are a selec­tion of com­ments from the major­i­ty of respon­dents who sup­port renew­ing the levy. Younger vot­ers demon­strat­ed a greater pro­cliv­i­ty to pro­vide qual­i­ta­tive input when giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to in this sur­vey, are the future of our soci­ety, and do not qual­i­fy for fis­cal assis­tance poli­cies like the senior exemp­tion that old­er vot­ers are eli­gi­ble for, so I’ve cho­sen to empha­size their per­spec­tives. These are just a few of the 424 — yes, four hun­dred and twen­ty-four! — pro-levy comments. 

“Giv­en it’s the largest source of fund­ing for tran­sit projects, we should renew the levy. If we want to put our mon­ey where our mouths are when it comes to tran­sit-ori­ent­ed devel­op­ment, this will ensure we can do that.”

Male vot­er between the ages of eigh­teen and thir­ty-four in Dis­trict 1

“Infra­struc­ture is impor­tant and with­out [a] state income tax, this is how we can fund it.”

Female vot­er between the ages of thir­ty-five to forty-nine in Dis­trict 2

“I believe that tran­sit and infra­struc­ture are an impor­tant invest­ment in the city’s well-being and future, as well as a pos­i­tive eco­nom­ic invest­ment that will incen­tive com­mu­ni­ty well being and eco­nom­ic prosperity.”

Non­bi­na­ry vot­er between the ages of eigh­teen to thir­ty-four in Dis­trict 3

“I think we would all want the traf­fic in the Seat­tle area to get bet­ter instead of worse. Remov­ing fund­ing would­n’t solve that.”

Male vot­er between the ages of eigh­teen to thir­ty-four in Dis­trict 4

“I think it’s impor­tant to have a bill that focus­es on our abil­i­ty to trav­el from place to place. Hav­ing good roads and side walks is in impor­tant in a city… I’d rather my tax mon­ey go to some­thing that ben­e­fits us, which this does.” 

Female vot­er between the ages of eigh­teen to thir­ty-four in Dis­trict 5

“As some­one who bikes, walks, and uses pub­lic trans­porta­tion in the city fre­quent­ly I strong­ly sup­port invest­ment in this area and am will­ing to pay for it.”

Female vot­er between the ages of thir­ty-five to forty-nine in Dis­trict 6

“Our infra­struc­ture needs all the mon­ey it can get, and prop­er­ty own­ers are at the best place finan­cial­ly to fund it.” 

Male vot­er between the ages of eigh­teen to thir­ty-four in Dis­trict 7

Per­haps my favorite com­ment came from a male respon­dent from Dis­trict 1, who opined: “Nice things cost mon­ey. You want nice roads that don’t screw up your sus­pen­sion? Pay tax­es. You want bike lanes and side­walks? Pay tax­es. You want pot­holes to get filled? Pay tax­es. You want bridges that don’t fall into rivers? Pay taxes.”

That fel­low real­ly under­stands both sides of the equation! 

Even a few folks opposed to renew­ing the levy stressed that they favor invest­ing in trans­porta­tion choic­es. A male vot­er between the ages of thir­ty-five to forty-nine in Dis­trict 6 who oppos­es renew­al told us: “The old levy spent too much on roads. The new levy isn’t ded­i­cat­ing enough to bike/pedestrian infra­struc­ture, in favor of roads. Seat­tle needs to stop ignor­ing bike/pedestrian infra­struc­ture.” Mean­while, a cost-con­scious female vot­er over the age of six­ty-five in Dis­trict 5 told us: “Some­what opposed. My prop­er­ty tax went up over $800 last year. Would like to see a more equi­table way of shar­ing the cost. The new levy will include an increase.” 

It’s clear that there are vot­ers in our sam­ple who would be very recep­tive to see­ing addi­tion­al funds going to side­walks, bike paths, pedes­tri­an access, and traf­fic calm­ing mea­sures — even some who say they oppose renew­ing the levy!

The bot­tom line is this: The Seat­tle City Coun­cil will be leav­ing mon­ey on the table if it does­n’t increase the size of the 2024 trans­porta­tion levy. This propo­si­tion autho­rizes fund­ing for an eight-year times­pan. That’s two years short of a decade. As we approach the 2030s, we can antic­i­pate that cli­mate impacts are going to get worse and that pub­lic sup­port for tak­ing urgent mea­sures to reduce emis­sions will grow. Seat­tle needs to be get­ting ready for that future while also tack­ling its neglect­ed streets. The Coun­cil should add at least a few hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars in invest­ments to the levy proposition. 

Andrew Villeneuve

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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