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King County Council implements greater transparency in County budget numbers

Summary

Annual budget will include a detailed plan showing spending by business unit

Story

Citizens will better understand where their tax dollars are being spent under a budget transparency ordinance unanimously adopted today by the Metropolitan King County Council that requires a dramatically greater level of detail in the presentation and reporting of the annual County budget.

“Budget transparency is critical, especially in times of deep fiscal challenges. Policy makers and citizens need to know where every dollar is going.” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson, chair of the Committee of the Whole and prime sponsor of the ordinance. “This legislation provides the public with a greater level of detail about County spending and ensures that citizens’ priorities are being met.”

“Transparency has the effect of holding policy makers accountable,” said ordinance co-sponsor Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “If people can see what their money is spent on, they have more faith in their government. That is something that is surely lacking among our citizens at this time.”

“Citizens are watching every penny in their own budgets, and they should be just as informed about the expenditure of their tax dollars,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, co-sponsor of the ordinance. “These expanded reporting requirements will allow more informed public response to our budget proposals. More transparency is a big step toward increasing public engagement in our budgeting process.”

“In a period where every government jurisdiction is facing huge budget deficits, it is important for the general public to see how and where King County spends taxpayer dollars,” said Larry Gossett, Chair of the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. “With this legislation, the average citizen can now see the priorities of the County.”

Rather than presenting a single number for the appropriation for each County department or separately elected official, the legislation calls for the budget to be broken down to the section level, identifying the spending plan for each major program and line of business. For example, rather than presenting the budget of Public Health – Seattle & King County as a single line item of $187,241,092, the budget will now detail the planned expenditures for around 60 individual programs and lines of business.

“The Council needs accurate, detailed information to address King County’s financial problems and this ordinance will help us get to the heart of budget proposals to make the necessary corrections and changes,” said Council Chair Dow Constantine. “The public can also use this information to see where and how taxpayer dollars are being spent.”

“The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are spent and should be able to find budget information quickly and easily,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “By changing the way budget documents are organized, citizens will have more transparency and more information, which will make for a better dialogue between citizens and their representatives about budget priorities.”

The Council’s Committee of the Whole learned earlier this year that King County has generally lagged behind its peer organizations in the level of detail presented in its annual budget documents. In particular, the budget proposed by the Executive and adopted by the Council provided only a single number at the overall department level with no detail on how funds are allocated to specific lines of business within each department. While this information is available, it is often difficult for the public to access.

The ordinance allows departments and the separately elected officials to retain the flexibility they currently have to transfer funds between their lines of business, but requires them to notify the Council when making internal transfers of more than 15 percent of their overall budget. This reporting requirement ensures that the Council and the public are kept informed of major shifts in spending, while allowing departments the flexibility they need to react to changing circumstances and emerging issues that arise throughout the fiscal year.

The ordinance also affirms the commitment of the executive and legislative branches to work cooperatively to ensure that the County’s budget documents, especially the annual book which presents the Executive Proposed Budget, are a model of public transparency.


Read the legislation
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