Budget Talk: Crossing the Finish Line

In my last blog post, I described the County’s budget process as feeling like diving into the deep end of the pool.  In the past three weeks, my colleagues on the Budget Leadership Team (Budget Chair Dave Upthegrove, Rod Dembowski, and Kathy Lambert) and I have swum the length of the pool and it’s time to assess how well we did.  Throughout the collaborative process with my colleagues, I weighed each proposal against my personal commitment to provide core County services efficiently and well, to respond to the needs of residents, as we heard directly from them during our public outreach, and to respond to the most urgent needs of the day. 

I am proud of the budget that we developed and pleased that it passed unanimously last Monday.  After starting the year with a $50 million projected general fund shortfall, this budget funds the critical services our residents told us were most important.  For example, we restored funding for the Sheriff’s Air Support and Marine units, added two deputies to patrol the unincorporated area, supported funding for 300,000 hours of new bus service, expanded funding for alternative bus services like the routes currently serving Mercer Island and Redmond, and dedicated $4 million more to maintain unincorporated area roads.

Throughout our budget deliberations, we kept returning to the most urgent issue of our day – affordable housing and homelessness.  By weighing priorities we were able to identify $5.9 million that will be used to fund a men’s shelter and a navigation center in and around downtown Seattle.  Another $1 million was set aside so the County can partner with cities that want to address homelessness in their jurisdictions.  For example, a city like Kirkland, which is currently moving to build a women’s shelter, could seek support from this fund.

Beyond responding to the immediate crisis I urged my colleagues to also think about the larger problem of housing affordability and how we can prevent people from losing their homes in the first place.  As a result, the Council approved my motion to work with our regional partners, such as cities, non-profits, private business, and faith-based organizations, to develop a long-term plan for how we can ensure all our residents have a safe and affordable place to live throughout King County.

In addition to looking at the big picture needs of the county, I am excited about some of the great projects and services we will be funding in District 6:

  • $2 million to support the development of an aquatics and recreation facility in the Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland area
  • $50,000 as a first investment for the I-90 Trail on Mercer Island
  • $7.6 million in funding for the Eastside Rail Corridor which will ultimately provide a unique “highway without cars” connecting Woodinville, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue and Renton
  • $50,000 to help complete the capital vision for the Bellevue Youth Theater
  • $200,000 for small grants to District 6 programs that will help youth and older adults get and stay active (to be allocated in 2017)
  • Restored full funding to domestic violence, sexual assault and civil legal aid programs, including the Eastside Legal Assistance Program

As much as we were able to restore public safety functions and fund expanded services for people experiencing homelessness, there are still serious cuts to important services in the General Fund.  Combined, the criminal justice agencies made roughly $9 million in reductions that will negatively affect the criminal justice system, including a $1.3 million reduction to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; elimination of three Superior Court Commissioners; and closing the County’s Work Education Release program, which allows people to keep their jobs while serving their court sentence. The Council took a 2% across the board reduction.  These cuts are examples of how increasing costs and the state’s 1% revenue cap work together to result in decreased services to the people of King County.  In the coming year, I am dedicated to working with my colleagues in King County and across the state to continue to provide efficient government services while also asking the Legislature to restore local control and allow counties to scale their revenues to legitimate cost drivers like inflation and new construction.