King County | Reprioritization of property taxes won’t be on August ballot

Proposal to ask voters to reprioritize property taxes to protect criminal justice falls one vote short

Legislation to allow voters to decide whether to fund criminal justice services by reprioritizing other property taxes did not garner the votes needed to be placed before the voters on the August ballot at today’s special meeting of the Metropolitan King County Council.

Today was the last day for the Council to take action to submit a proposal to the voters for the August primary ballot. A majority of the Council voted for the proposal, but it failed because a supermajority was required.

“Criminal justice is the County’s paramount duty,” said Council Chair Bob Ferguson. “We are all in this budget crisis together and it is disappointing that a minority of the Council frustrated the will of the majority to let the voters decide on funding criminal justice and public safety services.”

“I am disappointed that we could not come to a bi-partisan agreement and take the preservation of public safety services that would otherwise be cut to a vote of the people,” said Julia Patterson, Chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. “The situation before us is difficult, and although I feel the majority did all they could to let the people of King County weigh in and let their voices be heard, we will continue to find any reasonable solution to protect criminal justice and public safety.”

“We worked closely with the Executive and the criminal justice separately elected officials since the beginning of the year to craft a proposal to preserve the criminal justice system in King County. I am extremely disappointed we were unable to secure enough votes to put a measure on the ballot asking the voters of King County to support our criminal justice system,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett. “We are now in danger of losing all of the innovative alternatives to incarceration programs that are proven to keep our costs down.”

“I supported letting the voters decide whether or not to keep their criminal justice system intact before we have to start issuing layoff notices to Sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “The property tax approach is a smaller, less regressive tax increase, so it’s less burdensome on people struggling in this tough economy.”

“I believe this is just too big a decision to make without taking it to the public. I’m going to keep working with my colleagues to get to yes and put it to a vote of the people,” said Councilmember Jan Drago.

Councilmembers voting against giving voters the option to reprioritize property taxes were Kathy Lambert, Jane Hague, Pete von Reichbauer, and Reagan Dunn.

The property tax proposal considered today was drawn-up after it became clear negotiations regarding a proposed two-tenths of one percent sales tax would not garner the six votes needed for placement on the August ballot. As an alternative, Councilmember Ferguson worked with the majority of his colleagues to create a property tax proposal for funding critical criminal justice services.

Placing the item on the August ballot would have allowed voters to decide before the County Executive transmitted the annual budget proposal. By county charter, the Executive is required to submit a balanced budget proposal by late September. Without a decision by the voters in August, the budget proposed by the Executive will require severe cuts.

The effect of the legislation voted down today would have been two-fold. First, it would have asked voters to authorize a property tax levy of $0.16 per $1,000 of assessed value to fund criminal justice services. These services include police protection, offender incarceration, court services, prosecution and defense services, domestic violence and sexual assault services, and legal assistance. Funding would also have been provided for a capital project to replace the dilapidated Youth Services Center in downtown Seattle.

Second, the proposal would have required voters to approve an off-setting reduction in the following property taxes:

·       Flood control; ·       Conservation futures programs; ·       The county automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS), and; ·       The 2007 parks expansion levy.

Additionally, the legislation would have required the repeal of the 2011 and 2012 King Conservation District Special Assessment and the reprioritization of funds from the unincorporated area levy. Specifically, the unincorporated area levy funds that are currently used for roads projects would have been reprioritized for police protection purposes.

If it had gone before the voters and had been adopted, the net impact of the reductions and newly authorized property tax levy would have been $38 on a $400,000 home (an addition of $0.085 per $1,000 of assessed value).

The proposal also included a sunset provision and the levy would have ended after nine years.