The recession may be over, but King County’s budget is still hurting. County Executive Dow Constantine rolled out his 2015-16 budget proposal Monday, saying deep cuts are needed because revenues continue to trail far behind expenses.
The proposal calls for the county to eliminate 500 positions, which Constantine believes would be the largest-ever slash to its workforce. The reduction includes 200 layoffs; the rest are jobs left vacant after people retire or transfer.
Constantine blames the cuts on Olympia. “We cannot keep the level of services unless somebody in Olympia steps up and starts fixing a tax system that is broken," he said. "It is widely considered to be the worst in the country."
The county budget largely relies on money from property and sales taxes, but Constantine says that revenue has gone down while the population, and inflation, keeps going up.
Constantine called on state lawmakers to pass a transportation tax package to help pay for roads and transit. He also wants the ability to increase property taxes, but yet again, that’s up to the Legislature. State law limits local governments to a 1 percent annual increase on property taxes.
The county’s Metro bus service is one of the areas hardest hit by the cuts. Two public health clinics are also set to close.
Another way for the county to raise more money is through voter-approved tax measures, although voters recently rejected a plan to prevent the bus cuts.
Now, Constantine proposes a new tax levy geared toward longer-term savings. It aims to invest more in kids’ health and education when they’re really young.
“And if we miss that opportunity - if we miss those first thousand days - we end up paying the bill many times over in the exact things that take up most of our budget here," Constantine said. "In cops, in courts, in prosecutors and defenders and in jails, not to mention mental health.”
The levy is targeted for the 2015 fall ballot. Details about the price tag and specific programs are still in the works.