Opinion

No-Brainer #28: PubliCola Picks Yes on King County Proposition 1

By PublicolaPicks October 5, 2010



Last week, we published 27 "No-Brainer" endorsements for the November 2 election. We realized, though, before we study up and make the rest of our endorsements, there are still a few obvious picks on the ballot. Five more to be exact.


Here's the first one.

King County Proposition 1: PubliCola Picks "Yes"

Over the past two years, King County has cut $150 million from its budget, slashing or eliminating "discretionary" budget items like parks maintenance, human services, animal shelters, mental-health and substance-abuse programs, and services for victims of domestic violence. Next year, the county faces another $60 million shortfall.

Now, as county council chair Julia Patterson put it recently, "the reserves are spent and our delay tactics are exhausted."

Without additional revenues, the county will have to eliminate the most basic law and justice services county residents expect of government---things like detectives to investigate property crimes, cold cases, and drug felonies; family court; advocacy for victims of child abuse; school resource officers; supervision of repeat DUI and domestic-violence offenders; and advocacy for victims of sex offenses and violent crime.

King County Proposition 1 would increase county sales taxes by 0.2 percent to pay for criminal justice and law programs. Although we're fundamentally opposed to raising regressive taxes like the sales tax, the fact is that, under state law, the sales tax is the only revenue source available to counties to pay for criminal justice. Already, five other counties have raised their sales taxes between 0.1 and 0.3 percent.

Republican Sheriff Sue Rahr agrees with us. Last week, she pointed out that the proposed budget cuts would eliminate the detectives who investigate property and identity theft crimes; from now on, county police will be limited to taking reports. The cuts would fall disproportionately on lower-income residents of unincorporated King County. "If you can afford to live in a city, then you will have a higher level of public safety," Rahr said last week.

This is no idle threat. In the last ten years, the county has cut virtually all non-criminal-justice discretionary spending; criminal justice, and the tiny slice of county spending that still goes to health and human services, is all that's left. This 0.2 percent sales tax increase won't solve the county's long-term budget problem---property tax increases are capped by law at one percent, while costs have increased as much as six percent annually---but it will help stop the bleeding, limiting the amount the county has to cut to $25 million next year, and $32 million in 2012. County residents didn't create this situation---the state legislature and Tim Eyman did---but they can help fix it. Conversely, failing to fund these critical services for county residents would be unconscionable.

Moving forward, King County must find a way to solve its structural deficit. In particular, as a gesture of good faith toward voters, the county must renegotiate some of its labor contracts; sheriff's deputies, in particular, have received generous cost-of-living increases every year while the actual cost of living in King County has stayed nearly stagnant. If the voters are willing to make this sacrifice, King County employees should be willing to do their part too.
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