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King County Executive Dow Constantine
Sept. 26, 2016
King County Council



Mr. Chair, Councilmembers, elected officials, valued employees, people of King County:

Twenty years ago, I was elected a citizen legislator to the state House of Representatives. In fact, I served with a number of councilmembers on this dais in Olympia. I came to public service with a belief in what we could accomplish together if we make government responsive to the people it serves.

As King County Executive, my goals for our community are straightforward. For every person in King County—and in our region and in our state—we want increased health and longevity, increased happiness and satisfaction, and increased prosperity and opportunity.

For King County government, my goal is to achieve the highest trust and confidence among the people we serve. By finding common ground—by forging partnerships and creating opportunities—we can ensure local government fulfills our common values.

As we come together this late September morning, in the midst of a seemingly endless presidential campaign, our nation is gripped by a deep cynicism about our institutions and our political process. Across the land, people see problems unaddressed, paralysis as a permanent condition of a dysfunctional system. There are glaring needs all around us, and seemingly little interest by our elected leaders in coming together to fix them. In this election year, we have seen the dangers of this discontent. Cynicism unchecked corrodes our ability to unite and achieve together what we cannot achieve alone. It robs us of the confidence that the institutions we created truly have the public interest in mind.

I believe the best antidote is for government to do things well, to carefully manage public resources, define outcomes, and deliver clear results. Here in King County—the largest local jurisdiction in the state, with the largest transit agency, in one of the fastest growing regions of the country—we are showing how to do it right. We’re showing strong return on investment. We’re demonstrating innovation. And we’re reinforcing a deep and enduring commitment to make government work for the people.

And so today, I am proud to present my proposed biennial budget.

In my first 100 days as King County Executive, I released a Blue Print for Reform. Those principles eventually came to be called Best Run Government, with three key tenets:

  • To maximize the impact of public resources;
  • To foster a workplace culture of continuous improvement and innovation, and;
  • To instill public trust by engaging communities to address concerns and implement solutions.

Best Run Government is more than winning a gold star or getting a pat on the back in Governing Magazine. It’s a way of thinking being adopted across agencies. Every day, King County employees are finding new ways to break down barriers and better serve our customers. Every day, we measure performance and adjust course to achieve even greater results.

There are so many success stories to tell.

Jail staff and public health teamed up to improve mental health for people in custody while at the same time decreasing costs.

By engaging employees and changing how we work, Regional Animal Services now finds safe homes for 9 out of 10 dogs and cats that come into our care, one of the best save rates in the nation.

After King County took over the Homeless Management Information System, we transformed it into a vital tool to ensure each individual gets connected to the services they need.

Our Department of Natural Resources and Parks became the county’s first carbon neutral agency, and they did it a year ahead of schedule.

We have such top-notch people doing such great work, I really could go on all day.

The point is, partnerships are key to making it all work.

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I am proud to say King County has a strong, professional, union workforce. As we see the undeniable hollowing out of the middle class, both nationally and here in King County, we know more than ever that unions help preserve a middle class and protect working families.

And so it is particularly gratifying to sit down with these partners and achieve something never accomplished before.

Fifty nine collective bargaining units negotiated together as one Joint Labor Coalition, and with them we forged a single, fair, and unified total compensation agreement for the next two years. We met at one table to provide respectful, sensible compensation. I want to thank our labor partners for their incredible work and their commitment to King County.

Every day, our partnerships extend to employees, businesses, and philanthropies; to research organizations, schools, and universities. They help identify solutions for societal problems and create change.

Take the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, who shares our commitment to addressing the mental health crisis in our region. We will be working together regionally and at the state level to bring the necessary energy and resources to this issue to keep our people and our communities healthy.

At the Executive Office, our partnerships extend to the King County Council. At a time when politicians get more public attention with pyrotechnics than well-considered policies, we do things a little differently here in King County. We get things done.

  • Increasing voter access;
  • Taking on disproportionality in our justice system;
  • Greening Metro’s fleet;
  • Saving and developing the Eastside Rail Corridor;
  • Building for Culture;
  • Preserving and building more affordable housing near transit stations;
  • Creating the best financial practices, including the move to a biennial budget; and
  • Dozens more innovations.

I am proud to have close working relationships with the Councilmembers so we can sit down and figure out solutions, always putting our constituents as the top priority.

Some say it’s the way local government should work. Others say it’s boring. They view government as just another reality TV show. And I guess posturing and in-fighting are more entertaining than thoughtfulness and rational decision-making. But I submit the best government is one that governs efficiently, effectively, thoughtfully—and that is what we are building every day in King County.

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As Executive, my responsibilities include one of the nation’s largest bus agencies: Metro Transit. I’m also board chair of the regional transit agency, Sound Transit. This is a lot like having two full jobs. (Or three, if you count being the father of a two-year-old.) But what I know is that, for students, for workers, for families, mobility is key to opportunity. I passionately believe that every person in King County and in our region must have access to jobs and education and all that this remarkable place has to offer.

It’s why we pushed for a system that deployed our Metro bus service based on productivity rather than politics. It’s why I directed King County Metro and Sound Transit to integrate planning, operations, construction, and customer service for a better overall transit system. That’s why I pushed to develop the ambitious Sound Transit 3 plan and to send it to the voters this year.

ST3 took shape after Sound Transit went out and listened to communities across three counties:

  • Seven regional open houses with 1,200 people;
  • More than 2,000 written comments; and
  • More than 34,000 responses to online surveys.

The consensus was clear: people want light rail. They want an extensive system. And they do not want to wait to get started.

The measure on your November ballot reflects what the people demanded. Fast, reliable rail is the only way to move people off our gridlocked roads, protect our economy and environment, and maintain our quality of life.

The region is growing, and so is King County—we added 37,000 people last year alone. It’s no surprise that demand for alternatives to driving on our clogged roads and highways is growing as well. That’s why we’re also expanding and enhancing Metro bus service.

Earlier this year, I announced significant investments that will begin to fulfil the vision of transit that is close, frequent, and safe: 300,000 hours of new service in the next two years, investments in human resources and training, and new safety and security measures for our passengers and our drivers. I’m even calling for buses to be cleaned twice as often. You’re welcome.

These investments won’t take place in a vacuum. They are part of my proposed long range transit plan called Metro Connects, which calls for increasing the number of buses on the street by 30 percent, increasing bus service by 70 percent, and fully doubling ridership.

All of this is designed to operate seamlessly with Sound Transit’s high-capacity regional network. This region deserves the best transit system in the world, and we aim to give our people exactly that.

* * *

 

This $11.3 billion biennial budget—which again maintains costs below the rate of inflation and population—exemplifies our Best Run Government principles. It builds our reserves, because the next recession isn’t just a possibility, it’s a certainty. It focuses on achieving outcomes. And it continues our move toward upstream solutions, where modest, timely investments yield substantial savings later and can profoundly alter an individual’s life.

Funded by one-tenth of a penny countywide sales tax, our Mental Illness and Drug Dependency programs fill the gaps when other systems fail those with behavioral health challenges. We are moving to a system that will provide treatment on demand and same-day access to care, because we know the window of opportunity to intervene in a crisis is narrow. And why wait for a crisis when data and science confirm what we knew all along, that a little early care and nurturing can prevent problems before they start?

This year, we will implement Best Starts for Kids, which, thanks to King County voters, seeks to ensure that every baby born in our community and every child raised here has a strong start in life.

Partnering with communities across the region, Best Starts for Kids will invest in a wide range of services, including maternal and child health, parent support, school-based health centers, and other strategies. I want to thank the Council for its hard work and diligence in passing the implementation plan for Best Starts for Kids earlier this month.

* * *

 

When the tiles from the Kingdome roof fell in 1994, it wasn’t such a great thing. And if you’re young enough that you don’t know about the Kingdome, I’ll ask you to talk to Councilmember Von Reichbauer and Councilmember Gossett after the speech about what a great time that was.

But I’m here to tell you that there’s a silver lining. Thanks to the retirement of the Kingdome roof repair bonds, we’re able to fund more youth sports activities, including adding recreational staff to serve Skyway and East Federal Way similar to the White Center Teen Program that helps kids stay healthy, strong, and connected. We want the children of this county to get a healthy start in life. And we always want to ask ourselves—what kind of world will we leave these kids?

That’s what our climate priorities are all about.

We will continue to focus on reducing King County’s most significant sources of emissions from transportation and buildings. We will continue to finance energy efficiency retrofits through the innovative “Fund to Reduce Energy Demand” — or FRED, a particular priority of the senior deputy executive.

In fact, we’re extending this county financing program to our city partners as part of our climate collaboration. And we will significantly increase recycling options at our transfer stations, and keep building on the proud legacy of preserving and protecting farms, forests, and open spaces.

Through everything we do, through it all, we remain committed to the ideals of our namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our new Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan will inform and provide context for every decision we make. What we want is this: a King County where all people have equitable opportunities to thrive, where every person can live a full and productive life and fulfill his or her potential. How far we go in accomplishing this goal will be our ultimate measure of success.

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My budget is balanced. It’s compassionate. It’s forward-looking. But it is not all that I want it to be, nor what it needs to be. Artificial constraints imposed by the state Legislature force us to reduce service in important areas, particularly those in the General Fund, which is primarily supported by property tax.

State law limits property tax revenue growth to 1 percent per year plus new construction, regardless of the real estate market, economy, or population. But the rate of inflation plus population alone is 3.5 percent. Transit and other county services that have their own dedicated revenues are OK. The same can’t be said for General Fund services like sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors.

So here in the strongest economy in our history, we must reduce staff at the Prosecutor’s Office, and that will likely delay the filing and prosecution of cases.

Halfway through the biennium, we will run out of money for the Sheriff’s Air Support and Marine units, which provide important regional and state search and rescue and emergency response services. It’s either that or lay off the deputies who respond to emergency calls in our neighborhoods. And we’re already 30 deputies short of what we need.

Halfway through the biennium, we will be forced to eliminate Work Release and Electronic Home Detention, which provide alternatives to incarceration.

By 2018, we will no longer be able to book inmates at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in south King County, which will increase the time it takes local law enforcement to process those in custody.

Because the alternative to these reductions would be even more cuts to prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies and services for those most in need. And that’s not even to mention the decades-long erosion of state and federal support for public health, or the utter mismatch between the big need to maintain the vast, aging network of unincorporated roads and bridges, and the small, mostly rural population expected to pay for them.

Working with other elected officials in King County, we will do everything we can to mitigate the impact of cuts. But let there be no mistake—unless the Legislature fixes the problem, these reductions will only get worse over time. And governments are facing the same situation all across the state.

Today, we are joined by:

  • Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy;
  • Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers; and
  • Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws.

With us today we also have:

  • San Juan County Council Chair Jamie Stephens and San Juan County Councilmember Rick Hughes;
  • Kittitas County Commissioner Obie O’Brien;
  • Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, president of the Sound Cities Association; and
  • Representing all 39 counties across the state, we welcome Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington State Association of Counties.

Thank you for joining us.

These are the same people who helped lead the years’ long struggle that culminated in the adoption last year of the statewide transportation package. Today, we all face the same challenge—explaining to citizens why the Legislature is starving local government at a time when the demand for service is great and growing.

It makes no sense to restrict funding of criminal justice and public health to a rate that bears no relation to the needs of a growing population and a growing economy. To legislators, we say this: allow us to respond to the needs of our communities. The solution is simple: When you fix McCleary—and you absolutely must fully fund the education of our schoolchildren—fix the 1 percent.

The time for meaningful tax reform is now. Local governments across Washington will not rest until Olympia hears our collective voice and the millions of residents who rely on our services every day. Thank you Executive McCarthy, Executive Somers, and Executive Louws for your leadership at home and throughout the state. Thank you Council Chair Stephens, Councilmember Hughes,Commissioner O’Brien, Mayor Backus, Director Johnson, and all who traveled to be with us today to share your important message about getting the Washington State Legislature to act in the interest of the people we all serve.

It’s no coincidence that most of our cuts are in the justice system. About three-fourths of the General Fund is dedicated to public safety and justice. But we have seen incredible innovations there as well. I want to thank Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, Sheriff John Urquhart,  Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Willie Hayes,  Public Defender Lorinda Youngcourt, and Presiding judges Susan Craighead of Superior Court and Donna Tucker of District Court.

Despite their different roles in the criminal justice system, they are all united in their commitment to finding new ways to transform the lives they touch. Whether it’s directing low-level offenders to community-based services, or using art, music, and writing to reach at-risk youth, or getting people into housing and job training, King County’s criminal justice system is compassionate, smart, and reform-minded.

We know this: the war on drugs is over. The cost to a generation of men and women of color, the damage done to our constitutional rights, continues. At King County, we say that compassion, treatment, and rehabilitation are more than just less expensive alternatives to incarceration, though they are that. They restore hope. They restore health. They redeem lives.

Unless the Legislature acts responsibly and fixes this broken tax system, all of our innovations—and more—are at risk.

Doing nothing in this legislative session will mean our next biennial budget will contain even deeper cuts that will imperil more people and programs in criminal justice, public health, and other key services. The trend lines are irreversible; we simply cannot allow this slow disintegration to continue.

* * *

 

It’s common in these kinds of speeches to say something along the lines of “My budget reflects our priorities.” And this budget does, as far as it goes. But there is so much more that we want and need to do.

We should be able to create affordable housing and strengthen communities. We should be able to do more to help people get around without getting stuck in traffic. We should be able to offer more of those in crisis a helping hand—to help even more kids realize their potential, and even more seniors live in security and dignity.

I don’t agree with the cynics. I don’t agree with those who say our nation has become too divided, too angry to come together to solve problems. I see too much good work being done to be discouraged.

On the contrary. I work for King County, and every day I am inspired by our employees, our elected leaders, our partners, and the people of this region. This community, this county, this region, has what it takes to succeed and even more than that, to be a place where every person—long-timer and new-comer alike—has the full opportunity to be part of that success.

Let us move forward together to achieve this vision of a prosperous and equitable King County, region and state, and be the example our nation needs.

King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

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