2023 – 2024 budget speech
Executive Constantine unveils 2023 – 2024 budget, highlights investments in key priority areas including clean energy, public safety, housing projects, and behavioral health
Focusing on four priority pillars of work first introduced in his 2022 State of the County, King County Executive Dow Constantine joined the King County Council today to deliver his 2023 – 2024 biennial Proposed Budget. The $15.8 billion budget will make major investments in the Executive’s priority areas focused on battling the climate crisis and restoring our environment, ensuring every person has a home, ensuring a community where every person is safe, and uprooting racism and racial disparities.
In his prepared remarks, Executive Constantine spoke to each of these areas emphasizing that this budget proposal is a road map to King County’s values – prioritizing investments in communities and populations farthest from opportunity, access, and justice, in order to ensure that King County is making a welcoming community where every person can thrive.
Investing in our environment
“Investing in solutions to the climate crisis is our responsibility to the communities we serve, and to the generations that will follow. We must do everything we can, as soon as we can.”
- Converting Metro’s bus fleet to zero-emissions: $180 million to purchase battery-electric buses and $43 million in zero-emissions infrastructure to ensure that Metro’s 1,400 coach bus fleet is zero emissions by 2035.
- Restoring fish habitat: $28.5 million in capital investments to remove blockages to fish passage habitat. King County will restore access to 50 percent of fish passage habitat by 2032.
- Expanding access to heat pumps and solar panels: $1 million to expand the Energize pilot program, which installs high-efficiency heat pumps in homes occupied by residents with low and moderate incomes in White Center and Skyway, to include solar panels. The County will also invest $1.9 million to provide private lenders with more flexibility to offer better financing options to higher-risk homeowners for home upgrades that also improve the environment.
- Other budget proposals (PDF)
Affordable Housing & Homelessness
“This is not a radical idea, but let me say it again: For people to get off the street, they must have somewhere to go.”
- Building affordable housing near transit: $45 million in bonds backed by lodging tax revenues will be issued in 2023 to fund affordable housing near transit stations.
- Supporting housing operations: Up to $30 million to fund operations, maintenance, and services for existing and new supportive housing sites.
- Make homelessness rare, one-time, and brief by supporting the King County Regional Homelessness Authority: $96 million to continue funding a coordinated crisis response to homelessness led by the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.
- Other budget proposals (PDF)
Justice & Safety
“Having a home is critical to the sense of security everyone deserves. But as we know, that need extends beyond the front door, into our communities. Each of us needs to know that, if we call for help, the right person, with the right training and skills, will be there to provide it.”
- Preventing Gun Violence: $9 million to support 52 Regional Peacekeepers Collective, trusted messengers delivering a community-led approach to gun violence prevention including critical incident response, hospital-based referrals, and hot spot remediation activities.
- Ensuring safety for transit riders and staff: $21 million to support 140 Metro transit security officers providing support and visibility on Metro buses, transit centers, and stops. An additional $5.1 million will support Metro SaFE Reform Initiatives, including a new partnership with the Department of Community and Human Services and community-based organizations to connect people in crisis on and near Metro transit with resources and services.
- Implementing body-worn cameras: $5 million to provide all Sheriff patrol deputies with body-worn cameras. Deployment of cameras and associated training will begin immediately and phased in over the next three years.
- Expanding treatment programs for people in or being released from King County jails: $6.3 million to maintain and expand jail-based opioid treatment programs and services for people being released from the jail with substance use disorder or other behavioral health conditions.
- Other budget proposals (PDF)
Anti-Racism & Pro-Equity
“This budget is a reflection of our values. It prioritizes investments in communities and populations furthest from opportunity, access, and justice, to ensure we can meet our True North of making this a welcoming community where every person can thrive.”
- Funding participatory budgeting: $10 million for a second round of participatory budgeting for residents of urban unincorporated King County. The first round of participatory budgeting concluded successfully in August 2022, with residents selecting 45 capital projects to fund in their communities.
- Supporting community-led diversion programs: $11.9 million to continue the Restorative Community Pathways program and the Community Diversion Program to provide community-based accountability and services for youth and adults outside the court system.
- Vacating drug convictions: $2 million to community groups to build awareness about options to vacate drug convictions and provide services that address the needs of individuals affected by the collateral consequences of contacts with the criminal system and drug convictions, such as persistent barriers to housing and employment.
- Other budget proposals (PDF)
“Last month I stood alongside councilmembers, regional officials, law enforcement, and providers to announce a coalition to craft a new approach to behavioral health in King County. Our work over the past month confirmed a few things – inaction is not an option, the elements of the solution already exist, and improving our behavioral health crisis system benefits much of the rest of our work, from public safety to public health to homelessness.”
- As a part of this budget package, Executive Constantine is transmitting a proposal for a new levy to fund behavioral health and pending passage by the King County Council will be presented to voters for their approval this spring.
- Over the next nine years, King County will invest, build, and transform the way people in our community care for one another.
- The Crisis Care Centers levy would make a generational investment of nearly $1.25 billion to:
- Create a network of 5 crisis centers
- Stop the loss and expand by nearly half the number of residential treatment beds
- Deploy more services even before the new centers open, and
- Recruit and retain an outstanding and representative workforce to serve the people of King County.
The proposed budget has been transmitted to the King County Council, which will begin holding bearings in October with final passage in November.
“This budget is a down payment on the future we deserve; an investment in all the possibilities we want for one another and for our beautiful region,” said Executive Constantine in his address. “Together, we can take on the extraordinary challenges of this time, and build the home we all want – that welcoming community – with the unity, focus, and fortitude to overcome the momentary hurdles, and unlock tomorrow’s promise.”
“I greatly appreciate the thought, care, and diligence it took the Executive, and the entire county administration, to build a budget that moves our region forward after an incredibly challenging time," said King County Council Budget Committee Chair Joe McDermott. "The Council’s Budget Committee is looking forward to a robust and collaborative process to ensure we are investing in an equitable recovery, and put our county on a path to thrive in the coming years.”
Budget speech full text
Chair Balducci, Budget Chair McDermott, members of the Council, our department directors, and the 2.3 million people who make this county their home.
This morning, I deliver to you my proposed budget for the next two years. It totals $15.8 billion dollars, with a general fund of $2.35 billion. It maintains reserves within our target range, and it is balanced.
As we often remind ourselves, the budget is more than just a financial exercise. It is a framework for investment in our priorities; where we put our words into action; and we take our vision and seek to make it real – a vision of a welcoming community where every person can thrive.
As a charter county - and one of the largest counties in the nation – our employees cover an astonishing range of subjects and services – much of it behind the scenes, but all of it important. Our commitment to continuous improvement cuts across all offices and agencies as we seek to quietly and competently deliver for the people of King County.
Now, from time to time, some issues force their way to the front. When I first took office, some of you will recall it was the global financial crisis. More recently it was the COVID pandemic, and all the crises that came along with it. And now, it is building a path toward an equitable recovery.
In my State of the County address this past May, I emphasized several urgent priorities for this moment in our history:
- Battling the climate crisis and restoring our environment;
- Ensuring that every person has a home;
- Being a community where every person is, and feels, safe; and
- Uprooting the racism and racial disparities woven into the fabric of society and government.
The budget I’m sending you today is the culmination of many months of work by hundreds of people poring over every policy decision and program. And I want to particularly recognize our intrepid budget director Dwight Dively for another job well done.
Now, as I said, it is balanced, but the continuing absurdities of Washington State’s regressive tax system cause county revenues to fall further and further behind inflation and population growth, by hundreds of millions of dollars. And that means that worthy requests – things that need to be done – are simply left behind. And two years from now, if the legislature can’t muster the will to finally fix the nation’s worst tax system, we are going to likely face general fund cuts on the order of $80 million dollars or more.
Still, we innovate. We find a way, even with all these constraints, to serve the people.
I want to share my deep appreciation for our 18,000 full- and part-time employees – they are the people who make that innovation and that service possible – and their democratically constituted labor unions. This year we reached agreements with our broad coalition of unions as well as other major county labor groups, including a new contract with the Corrections Guild, and tentative agreements with the King County Police Officer’s Guild and the Washington State Nurses Association.
It is the work though that we do together, beyond the bargaining table, in the workplace and in the community, that will help drive real change for the people we collectively serve.
In this budget we advance our enterprise-wide commitments:
- To continuous improvement,
- To equity and anti-racism, and
- To bold action against the looming climate crisis.
Today, I want to discuss a few of our key investments and, most importantly, how they will impact the people of our County.
First, the earth. I probably don’t have to remind anyone that having a habitable planet is not optional; without it, nothing else matters. Investing in solutions to the climate crisis is the responsibility that we hold to the communities we serve, and particularly to the generations who will follow. We must do everything we can, as soon as we can.
Building on national and global momentum in the adoption of electric vehicles, my budget includes more than $265 million to put Metro on target for a zero-emission transit fleet by 2035. And, it accelerates electrification of the County’s fleet of cars and trucks, and advances electric charging infrastructure.
It also kickstarts a loan fund. And this would help homeowners invest in clean heating, and air conditioning, and more. Snohomish County’s success in a similar program has already taken their initial investment of $644,000 and turned it into more than $23 million in loans. That’s a 35 to 1 ratio, already helping more than 2,000 families install high efficiency heat pumps, and solar panels, and more. So that’s why my budget invests nearly $2 million into a program of our own.
This means thousands more families across King County can get off oil and gas, with efficient, all-electric heat in the winter and cool, cleaner indoor air in our increasingly hot, smoky summers.
Whether it’s the climate crisis, or ensuring every person has a place to call home, every community can play a part in building the solution. This is not a radical idea, but let me say it again: For people to get off the street, they must have somewhere to go.
Together, we remain laser-focused on solutions to secure homes or, at a minimum, 24-hour shelter for every person, as quickly as possible, along with the services to help them move forward.
We launched Health through Housing to quickly create safe, dignified places for those who have been chronically homeless to move in, to stabilize, to get appropriate services, and to begin to reclaim their lives.
So far, we have purchased nearly 1,000 units in every corner of the county - from Auburn to Federal Way, from Redmond to Renton, from Kirkland to Seattle. And we funded services in another 300 units that are provided by the City of Seattle. Councilmembers Balducci, Kohl-Welles, Upthegrove, Von Reichbauer, thank you for your partnership hosting these in your communities.
Today, I’m pleased to announce our newest acquisition - on Capitol Hill. The focus of this new building will be homeless individuals who face intersectional marginalization– the transgender BIPOC community.
But there are still thousands of people, across the County, struggling with chronic homelessness. We need more places for them, and we need places with more intensive services for those with acute behavioral health issues – people who are unable to function in a regular shelter or apartment setting.
We still need more housing – and it must be affordable. In this budget we bring nearly $50 million forward to fill the gaps for some of our existing investments hit by construction delays and higher inflation costs. Specifically, I am proposing we prioritize projects that respond to – and prevent – homelessness in communities most at risk.
I met just last week with residents in Tukwila who have been renting inexpensive rooms in an older building slated for redevelopment. My budget proposes funding a local organization called Access to Our Community, which is working to purchase a nearby building where residents can move in, with rents they can afford, and keep moving ahead, rather than falling into homelessness. Councilmember Upthegrove, I want to thank you for your partnership here.
Now, nothing would have a greater impact on the health of our community than ensuring that everyone has a home, ensuring housing for all. The shortage of housing and the scourge of homelessness – they are solvable, if we choose to align and invest.
Having a home is critical to the sense of security everyone deserves. But as we know, that need extends beyond our own front door, into the communities we live in. Each of us needs to know that, if we call for help, the right person, with the right training and skills, will be there to provide it. This budget seems to make that so.
Last week I announced my proposed public safety investments, with our new plan that recognizes the realities of serving the public in the 21st century. Councilmember Zahilay, I appreciate your partnership to implement and fund this new plan.
When seconds count, we need people to respond. And that’s why our plan invests in having a fully staffed frontline safety network as soon as possible, and in new co-responders to ensure that the burden of engaging someone experiencing a behavioral health crisis is not falling only on our police officers.
Regardless of heated rhetoric, regardless of false narratives, we will continue to invest in what works – and that includes adult and juvenile diversion programs for low-level offenders, to steer people away from trouble and on to a better path. These programs, which are evidence-based and help identify underlying issues that lead to criminal behavior, can be more successful at reducing repeat offenses than traditional adjudication.
We must ensure that those who harm others are held accountable, and that victims receive justice. If an approach, whether it is traditional or alternative, fails to reduce crime, fails to meet underlying community needs, we must not be afraid to change course.
We can help law enforcement officers truly protect and serve. I propose we deploy body cameras to all patrol deputies, and I’ve included funding in this budget to do just that. I want to thank United States Representative Kim Schrier for helping to secure a million dollars from the federal government to add to our work to quickly deploy cameras to all of our officers.
We’ll invest in new tactics, anti-racism and de-escalation training, equipment, protocols, and a workforce to achieve genuine community safety, including for many people of color who have historically experienced bias and racial inequities in policing and in criminal legal systems.
Ensuring the safety of the public is a core mission of government. And this year’s budget will help bring genuine – and just – safety for all people in our community.
Safety and health, they go hand in hand. And for people suffering a mental health or addiction crisis, our community needs to rethink and reinvest in behavioral health.
Last month, I stood alongside many of these councilmembers, regional officials, law enforcement, and providers to announce a coalition to craft a new approach to behavioral health in King County.
Our work over the past month confirmed a few things:
- Inaction is not an option.
- The elements of the solution are already there, they already exist; and
- Improving our behavioral health crisis system benefits much of the rest of our work, from public safety to public health to homelessness.
Yesterday, I announced our Crisis Care Centers proposal, and the funding that will make recovery possible. I want to thank Council Chair Balducci and Councilmembers Dembowski, McDermott, Perry, and Zahilay for helping to lead that coalition of the willing.
As a part of this budget package, members of the Council, this week I’m transmitting a proposal for a new levy to meet this desperate need, with the hope that you will present it to voters for their approval this spring. Over the next nine years, King County will transform the way people in our community care for one another.
The tenets of our proposal are simple:
- First, people can, and do, recover;
- Second, people should not have to go to a medical emergency room or to jail for treatment; and
- Third, we must redouble our commitment – all of us – to building something better.
The Crisis Care Centers levy would make a generational investment of $1.25 billion over nine years in:
- Creating a network of 5 crisis centers
- Stopping the loss and expand by nearly half the number of residential treatment beds, and
- Deploying more services even before the new centers open, and
- We would recruit and retain an outstanding and representative workforce to serve the people of King County.
My proposed budget also takes the first step with an early investment in our region’s first walk-in crisis care center. It’s being created, thanks to the leadership of the many of our northern cities, including Kirkland, Bothell, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, and Shoreline. But existing funding is insufficient to meet the challenges we’re facing.
If we want to improve public safety, if we want to free up scarce emergency room beds, if we want to get everyone out of homelessness, then we must invest in behavioral health. These challenges are in many ways distinct, but they are also unquestionably interrelated.
This is a bold proposal to meet an urgent moment. We can solve for past failings and for changing conditions, and create the future every person in King County deserves. Together, we can ensure help is on the way.
This budget is a reflection of our values, as I said. It prioritizes investments in communities and populations furthest from opportunity, furthest from access, furthest from justice, to ensure we can meet our True North of making this a welcoming community where every person can thrive.
It continues and it expands critical investments to improve anti-racism training and leadership development for our own employees, to authentically engage our residents in our work, and to prioritize partnering with and funding communities to solve problems facing our region.
Our commitment to being an anti-racist and pro-equity government means we are just getting started doing budgeting differently. From listening to guidance from our Equity Cabinets, the Gathering Collaborative, and our own Employee Affinity Groups, we will continue to adapt and tailor programming to ensure we’re serving in a way that is informed by the people we seek to serve.
And, as soon as you adopt this budget, my team will start the planning process for the next budgets, identifying investment areas where we can take a new approach. Disrupting business as usual means we have to rethink and revaluate everything we do, and that includes how we budget.
So, members of the Council, I look forward to working with you on this proposal over the next few weeks. After two and a half years in the shadow of the pandemic, when you were called on to handle seemingly innumerable piecemeal emergency budgets, we now have the chance to invest in fundamental change. Let’s use this opportunity to deliver for the people we serve.
We can do our part, and more, to battle the climate crisis, while helping people save money and live healthier lives. We can ensure every person in King County has the safety and security of a home of their own. We can improve public safety with proven solutions and the right investments in people and training. And we can change how we care for people in crisis with a transformational investment in behavioral health.
This budget: it’s a down payment on the future we deserve; it’s an investment in all the possibilities we want for one another and for our beautiful region. Together, we can take on the extraordinary challenges of this time – and they are extraordinary – and we can build the home we want – that welcoming community – with the unity, focus, and fortitude to overcome these momentary hurdles, and unlock tomorrow’s promise.
Thank you so much.