County leaders say the budget’s in trouble and want your advice
County leaders say the tax system is broken and they’re facing a funding shortage. So they’re asking you for advice, via an online survey, before making cuts that could include some vital services including law enforcement. Here’s the announcement:
King County launched a community survey today asking for public input on prioritizing services funded by the County’s General Fund to inform looming budget cuts. The 2025-2026 General Fund is facing a $100 million revenue shortfall due to the state’s arbitrary one percent limit on property tax collections, which has not been updated in 20 years and now coincides with increased costs and high rates of inflation exceeding 9%.
To prevent deeper cuts in the next biennial budget and to provide time for affected programs to wind down, King County will be considering a budget in the fall that will include cuts to general fund programs.
“No enterprise, public or private, can be expected to provide the same services year after year with revenues arbitrarily capped below the increasing cost of doing business,” said Executive Constantine. “We are facing budget decisions that will affect the programs and services that people in King County depend on every day to keep them safe and healthy. These cuts will have real impacts on our residents, but we are left with no other choice given the legislature’s inaction. It’s important we hear directly from the public as to their priorities before I or the County Council make any decisions.”
“I look forward to hearing from residents what services and programs are their priorities and working with Executive Constantine and the King County Council as we move forward on these discussions,” said King County Council Chair Dave Upthegrove.
Most of the general fund goes to programs mandated at the state or federal level, like jails, courts, prosecution, and public defense. Many general government functions – such as elections, property assessments, human resources, the Executive department, and County Council agencies – are functions that cannot be eliminated but will face budget reductions in the fall. Discretionary programming – programming that is not mandated by state or federal law – represents a small portion of the total General Fund and overwhelmingly includes programs and services that support the region’s health, safety, and vitality, such as:
-Public Health clinics that serve low-income residents in Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kent, Kirkland, Renton, Seattle, and White Center;
-Services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault;
-Support for crime victims, family law support, regional gun violence prevention, and alternatives to standard adjudication and detention;
-Job training and other services focused on low-income BIPOC youth;
-Support for small farmers and forest owners to manage their properties to achieve ecological benefits and sustain the rural economy; and
-Sheriff’s deputies and detectives in unincorporated and rural communities.
Because these discretionary programs face the possibility of complete elimination, the community survey focuses on these areas so that Executive Constantine and the County Council can better understand which programs are most valued by residents. In addition to reviewing responses to the community survey, budget proposals will consider other factors such as the number of people served by a program, collective bargaining agreements, legal obligations, impacts on the region’s health and safety, and consistency with the County’s values.
Background on property tax limitations
In 2001 a voter-approved initiative limited property tax increases to one percent plus the growth from new construction, but after the state Supreme Court found the initiative unconstitutional, the legislature reinstated the limit. While the law caps any increases by governments to one percent, property tax bills of homeowners and businesses may change by more or less than 1%.
In the two decades since the cap was instituted, the revenue sources of counties have been structurally insufficient, as counties don’t have the ability to impose business and utility taxes, unlike cities and the state. Since passage in 2001, King County’s population has grown 30%, while consumer prices have increased 70%, and inflation in recent years has been as high as 9.5%. Despite those increasing economic strains, property tax collections have grown only an average of 2.68% in recent years.
The community survey will be open until May 18th. Executive Constantine will use the input gathered to develop his budget which he will propose to the County Council in the fall. The public will have additional opportunities to engage in budget decisions when the County Council holds public hearings.
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