Agenda also includes support for County roads, protection of Puget Sound
StoryKing County will head to Olympia this year to work with the Washington State Legislature on maintaining basic human services, finding a stable funding source for public transportation and relief from a tax ceiling that could derail flood control funding. Those three issues top the 2011 Legislative Agenda adopted unanimously today by the Metropolitan King County Council.
“This is an ambitious agenda that acknowledges the budget realities facing both King County and the state,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “We realize that because of the state deficit, all state funding is on the chopping block. Our goal with this agenda is to work with the Legislature on revenue ideas that don’t depend on additional resources from Olympia.”
“The state, like King County, is facing a critical time when it comes to finding creative ways to finance basic services,” said Jane Hague, Vice Chair of the Council. “This agenda reflects King County’s commitment to providing for essential services and creating a stable source to fund them.”
Counties were created as a governmental subdivision of the state of Washington to provide public safety through the sheriff, justice through the prosecutor and the courts, and basic health and life safety through the public-health department. All Washington counties are experiencing shortfalls from a financing structure that provides revenues only from the property tax and sales tax – fewer sources than those provided to cities.
“On the heels of a very difficult 2011 budget process, King County has found creative ways to continue providing state-mandated services, such as the public safety and public health, which are very important to all residents of this county,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson. “While we are making strides to address our own budget shortfall, we must call on the state Legislature to give us the tools and flexibility we need to protect the health and safety of our residents and provide them with the services they expect and deserve.”
“During the economic recession, Olympia can give us additional tools to meet our financial needs,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “A top priority will be addressing the challenges created by declining property values with authorization to continue
collecting funds to pay for flood-protection projects. At the same time, we are asking Olympia not to transfer any new costs to King County so we can live within our budget.”
“With all levels of government facing tough budget challenges, the state cannot pass the buck for funding mental health and human services to local communities,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson. “In this New Year, we look forward to working collaboratively with our representatives in Olympia to protect these critical services.”
“We must work effectively with our partners in Olympia on solutions to the most critical issues facing King County residents, including stable funding for preserving Metro transit service to support economic recovery,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “With both the state and county facing deep budget shortfalls, it’s critical to prioritize services that aid economic recovery and provide a safety net for the most vulnerable.”
“The State and County must work together and develop sustainable budget solutions to meet our commitments in public safety and basic family security,” said CouncilmemberJoe McDermott, who previously served in the state Legislature for 10 years. “With this legislative agenda, we commit to supporting those in King County who are already greatly suffering during this Great Recession.”
Each year King County develops a State Legislative Agenda with the Council and the County Executive working together to decide on the positions that are most important to bring to the attention of the Washington State Legislature. For 2011, those issues include:
• Protecting Critical State Support for Health, Housing, and Human Services—The County believes that even in times of economic hardship, preserving the safety net of basic services for its residents is critical. The County is calling on the Legislature to fund programs that are critical to maintaining a foundational level of support for our communities, including those that provide maternity support, mental health, public and primary health care, substance abuse, family planning, housing and services for low income and homeless persons, food assistance, and disability including developmental disability support services.
• Transit Funding Options –Reductions in the sales tax revenue that supports Metro Transit has forced the agency to make significant service reductions in the past two years. The County encourages the state to provide public transit agencies with sustainable funding tools in order to avoid catastrophic cuts and to grow service in the future.
• Tax Suppression & Flood Control— The continued housing market slide has impacted the revenue source for the Flood Control Zone District, the countywide flood district. As a result of a decline in assessed property values, some areas of the county are expected to reach the state imposed $5.90 local property tax levy ceiling in 2011, forcing the most junior district to reduce or stop collecting revenues—in this case, the Flood District. The County wants temporary relief from the state’s $5.90 ceiling so that the county can continue to collect revenue for flood protection.
• County Roads—The road system in unincorporated King County is deteriorating and substantial investments are needed to restore roads and bridges, maintain them in good condition, and meet new transportation demands. The County needs state funds to support county roads projects and facilities.
• Annexation Tools—The County supports resources to assist annexations, including granting counties the ability to levy a utility tax. The County also supports tools to make annexations easier for cities, including increased flexibility in advance of and during the transition, state capital and operating assistance, and an extension of the sales tax credit.
• Criminal Justice Funding— Providing counties state funding for state mandated criminal justice programs such as dependency court appointed special advocates.
• Protecting Puget Sound—Comprehensive efforts to improve stormwater management, link land use and transportation planning with habitat protection, and restore habitat. The County also supports the establishment of new funding mechanisms for habitat protection and restoration, including both direct state support and optional watershed-based funding tools.
The 2011 Washington State Legislature convenes for its 105-day session on Jan. 10.