Initial returns show voters rejecting Proposition 1, which would initiate a sales tax for cultural access programs.
A round of results released on Monday had the measure failing at 51 percent.
"The initial numbers we got Tuesday night were not the numbers we were hoping for. That being said, we know there are still thousands of ballots that have yet to be counted," said Jack Sorensen.
Sorensen served as campaign manager for the Access For All initiative, which he considers a small investment that would have a profound impact on the lives of students throughout King County.
The measure would increase the sales tax in King County by one-tenth of a percent starting in January 2018.
Sorensen says that only comes out to about a penny more for every $10 people spend, or about $30 a year for the average household. He says it would ensure every student has access to hands-on arts, science, and heritage education.
That's why supporters were disappointed by early results.
"We always knew this would be a close election," said Sorensen. "This is a particularly tough time to be on the ballot, in an odd year in a primary election."
But analysts believe there's something else at play: levy fatigue.
"I don't think it's the case that people don't like the arts. I think people do support the arts, but what they're telling our leaders is enough is enough. That every time there's an increase in taxes, it cuts take home pay and makes it harder to raise your kids and harder to buy things for your family," said Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center.
In other words, Guppy says people are tired of taxes.
"Whether it's King County or Sound Transit or car-tabs or property taxes, there's just a point where it's a tax to the max situation," he said. "So this Proposition 1 was a sales tax measure, and it looked very modest. But when you add it on to everything that's gone before, our sales tax is now over ten percent. And I think even people who don't follow the numbers or policy or go through budgets, I think even the average person can see that ten percent is a big hit."
Sorensen said he wasn't thinking about the possible impact of levy fatigue, as he is not ready to accept defeat when it comes to Proposition 1.
He's holding out hope that updated ballot returns could help close the gap.
"My thought is that King County voters are incredibly discerning voters, and I think they're able to look at individual programs based on their merits," he said.
If approved, the Proposition 1 sales tax increase would raise more than $67 million over seven years.
The generated revenue would fund cultural organizations for community-based, regional, and public school access programs to enhance and expand arts, science, and heritage programming, according to King County's website.
In addition, King County would use the revenue for start-up or administrative costs of county cultural development programs.
Supporters say the levy is needed to make up for public funding for arts education programs that have been drastically cut over the last decade. The measure also would prioritize access for low-income students.
Opponents say it's unfair to ask for another regressive sales tax in a region that already has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country. They worry the increased tax would hit working class families the hardest.
The King County Council passed a resolution in April to get the measure on the ballot. Sorensen said it took more than a decade of work to get to that point.
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