County Sales-Tax Increase Moves Forward

By Erica C. Barnett July 12, 2010

The King County Council just moved forward a proposal to increase the county sales tax to pay for public safety (specifically, preserving the sheriff's department and prosecutor's office at their current levels), virtually ensuring that the measure will be on the upcoming November ballot.

The measure, which has the support of the council's five-member Democratic majority, would increase the sales tax by 0.2 percent, of which 40 percent would go to cities in King  County, including Seattle. Even if voters pass the measure, the county will still face a $25 million shortfall next year, and a $32 million shortfall in 2012.

Left on the cutting-room floor: a proposal by the council's four Republicans to raise the sales tax 0.2 percent and offset the increase by cuts to property taxes that would primarily benefit homeowners in unincorporated King County, as well as a 0.1 percent sales-tax increase that would pay to replace the county's crumbling juvenile-justice facility.

Before the council took its vote, a long line of public officials and private citizens queued up to speak for and against the various tax-increase proposals. Advocates for replacing the juvenile-justice center, in particular, spoke emotionally about the flaws with the current facility, which, they testified, is unsafe, overheated, and in violation of the county's health code.

"The courtrooms are unsafe; the restrooms are foul from the heat," said chief juvenile judge Phillip Hubbard. "That facility is an affront to justice. It is an affrnt to the citizens who have to come there to seek justice."

Regardless of those concerns, county council member Larry Phillips opposed the juvenile-justice tax increase, leaving it with only four Democratic votes. The council will take a formal vote on the sales-tax increase in one week; if it passes, it will go to a countywide vote in November.
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