King County budget battle begins in earnest

King County Executive Ron Sims has officially unveiled his budget proposal, and says it balances an expected $93 million-plus deficit. Here’s his news release; you can read the budget summary here. Meantime, County Councilmembers — with elected county leaders including Sheriff Sue Rahr at their side — came out swinging, saying Sims’ plan doesn’t do the job, and relies on money that may not even exist (including future “legislative relief” and concessions in labor contracts). Their statement’s not online yet – read it here:

The 2009 budget proposed this afternoon by King County Executive Ron Sims relies on legislative relief from Olympia and millions of dollars in wage concessions from represented employees that have not yet been negotiated, according to the four budget leaders of the Metropolitan King County Council who said that without such agreements, the proposal could lead to even more layoffs and cuts in service by mid-2009.

The Councilmembers were joined at a news conference by the King County Sheriff, the Prosecuting Attorney, and the presiding judges of King County Superior and District Courts, who issued a joint statement of their own that raises the question of whether the budget is balanced.

Councilmember Larry Phillips, chair of the Council’s 2009 Budget Review and Adoption Committee, made these opening remarks:

“Regardless of the circumstances that created a $90 million shortfall, we are going to work together to create a King County budget that serves our highest priority of keeping the public safe and healthy.

“We come here with a sense of crisis, of how we are to provide critical public services while making the kinds of cuts our financial situation demands. This kind of drama was avoidable. We’ve seen these storm clouds on the horizon for a long time.

“It is unprecedented that a $15 million gap is being closed at the 11th hour. The Executive had an obligation to the public and to the agencies that serve them, to plan ahead, take strategic actions, and provide a budget ‘blueprint’ that leads us through these troubled times. We tried to help in that regard. We gave him budget priorities and a ‘12-step program’ of savings and efficiencies he should have taken months ago.

“What this proposal does so far is raise the likelihood that painful decisions on the budget will be pushed into all of next year. It becomes a budget of time-release capsules of uncertain outcomes and prolonged agony. In 40 years of charter government in King County, this is unprecedented. We expected to hear a speech that presents specific budget options and details for closing the gap. I did not hear it.

“Because of these extraordinary circumstances, we are announcing a new element to the five evening public hearings we hold every year in the community. This year, we are meeting with suburban mayors and city council members before each hearing. We are going to start a new conversation, to invite new, productive thinking when it comes to financing and delivering public services. We are all in the same fiscal boat. And we need to all be pulling together.

“My goal is that when this is over, we will still be able to stand together and say to the people of King County – we did the best possible job adopting a budget that meets your needs.”

King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer read a joint statement signed by the separately-elected criminal justice officials that said in part, “Executive Sims’ proposal turns long-standing county labor policy on its head. His proposed budget now pits one group of employees against another, which is regrettable, unfortunate, and unfair.”

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