Skip to main content
Most King County offices will be closed on July 4, for Independence Day.  
King County logo

News

King County Executive
Dow Constantine


Dedicated King County tax for public health, human services and criminal justice proposed

Summary

As the national recession and cuts in state and federal funding to counties continues to undermine King County’s budget, County Executive Kurt Triplett today proposed a one-tenth of a cent sales tax dedicated to help fund public health, criminal justice and human services. The Executive says the Healthy, Safe and Strong Communities tax will give residents an alternative to the deep cuts he would need to make to balance the county’s 2010 budget.

Story

As the national recession and cuts in state and federal funding to counties continue to erode King County’s revenues, County Executive Kurt Triplett today proposed a one-tenth of a cent sales tax dedicated to help fund public health, criminal justice and human services.

The Executive says the Healthy, Safe and Strong Communities tax will give residents an alternative to the deep cuts he will make to balance the county’s 2010 budget. The international economic crisis, a cap on property taxes at less than the rate of inflation, state limits on county revenue sources and the cost of serving urban areas of unincorporated King County have created a structural deficit so that the county cannot support existing services.

Despite $93.4 million in cuts, efficiencies, unpaid employee furloughs and benefit reductions in the 2009 budget, King County estimates revenues will be at least $50 million less than needed to continue current services in 2010. The structural deficit is projected at another estimated $60 million in 2011, meaning the only way to balance the budget will be draconian cuts to human services, public health clinics and local parks.

"After three years of major cuts, I have no options other than devastating cuts that will profoundly change services to the people of this county,” said Triplett. “My budget will be what the county can afford. The question to the council and voters will be ‘Is this the county you want?’”

Health services that prevent the spread of disease, clinics for people without insurance, the safety net of services for the region’s most vulnerable residents, programs that reduce crime and criminal justice costs, local parks and animal care and control are all facing deep cuts.

“I know that a tax increase will be a difficult choice for voters who are struggling during these tough economic times, but we need to offer residents a choice and a chance to keep services that help keep us healthy, safe and strong,” said Triplett. “I believe residents and county council members will agree that the cuts I am forced to propose in my budget are too harmful to the region’s quality of life. But I’m not asking council to support a tax. I’m asking the council to let the voters decide.”

Unlike wastewater and solid waste services that are funded by customer fees, public health, human services and criminal justice agencies must compete for the same general fund tax dollars. If approved, the Healthy, Safe and Strong Communities initiative would dedicate specific taxes to these services and make them less dependent on the general fund.

Sending the tax measure to the council before the Executive proposes his 2010 budget allows time for the council to meet a mid-August deadline to put a measure on the November 3 ballot. Triplett will deliver his proposed 2010 budget to the council by Sept. 27. The council will vote on a final budget at the end of November.

If approved by voters, state law requires that 40 percent of the amount collected be distributed to the 39 cities in King County. The proposed one-tenth of a percent sales tax is expected to generate approximately $17.8 million for the county in 2010 and $11.8 million for cities in King County. That amount would grow to more than $32 million by 2016 for King County and $21.8 million for cities.

That is enough money for King County to sufficiently fund human services at today’s level, operate three to five public health clinics, support pandemic flu preparedness and response, and fund the Sheriff’s helicopter, marine unit, bomb squad and other criminal justice programs. However, even if voters approve the new dedicated tax, cuts will still have to be made to some health, human and criminal justice services.

A December 2007 state report to the Governor and Legislature said that state laws have created structural deficits in counties across the state and recommends changes to give counties more flexible and reliable funding options, including a utility tax, and reimbursement for unfunded state mandates. State law limits the types of taxes counties can levy, limits how it spends existing taxes, and a voter-approved initiative caps growth in the property tax at one percent per year, which is less than the rate of inflation.

Among measures taken since 2002 to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, the county:

  • Consolidated executive branch departments to seven from 14, saving millions in administrative and overhead costs
  • Developed a parks business plan, which led to the approval of a property tax levy and private sector partnerships resulting in a $17 million annual savings to the general fund
  • Eliminated the Office of Cultural Resources and created 4Culture, a Public Development Authority, resulting in a $1.1 million annual savings
  • Instituted annual rent payments to Cedar Hills Landfill, generating over $7 million annually
  • Realized nearly $50 million in reductions and new revenues for the county’s criminal justice system
  • Reduced health and human service program funding by $12.2
  • Lowered employee costs by $8.4 million through renegotiated benefits

In addition to cuts to public health, human and criminal justice services, Executive Triplett is working to balance the 2010 budget through the following actions:

  • Seeking additional contributions from labor similar to the savings achieved with ten unpaid furlough days in 2009. Productive discussions are underway with union leadership
  • Redirecting $10-13 million of the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Sales Tax (MIDD) to save mental health court and related services
  • Reducing overhead, internal services and general government by more than $10 million including a 10 percent cut in the Executive’s Office, Office of Management and Budget and Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management

# # #

King County provides regional services to 1.8 million residents including 340,000 people living in unincorporated areas. Services include Metro transit, public health, wastewater treatment, courts, jails, prosecutors, public defenders, community and social services, the King County International Airport, and local services such as police protection, roads services and garbage collection. King County is the 14th largest county in the nation, covering 2,134 square miles, 39 cities, 760 lakes and reservoirs, and six major river systems with 3,000 miles of streams.



King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

Read the Executive's biography