This guest Slog post is by King County Executive Dow Constantine.
King County government provides a lot of the basic services that make life work for all two million people—living in 39 cities and the unincorporated communities—of the nation’s 14th largest county. Among the most endangered of county infrastructure, in this third year of massive, recession-induced budget cuts, is the justice system.
A woefully inadequate state tax system, state initiatives that limit the taxing abilities of local governments, and the collapse in retail sales and new construction, has contributed to $140 million in general fund deficits for 2009-2010. With nearly every discretionary service slashed to the bone or eliminated entirely, the $60 million in additional cuts we face for 2011 threaten the core purposes for which we have established County government: criminal and civil courts, prosecutors and public defenders, corrections and smart alternatives to jail, patrol officers and detectives to solve crimes, and protections for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
To reduce the damage from these cuts, King County has placed Proposition 1 on the November ballot. Prop 1 is a temporary 0.2 percent sales tax (two pennies on a $10 purchase) that will stop the worst—but by no means all—of the cuts to crime victims and the justice system over the next three years. This is the only viable option available to struggling counties under state law. It won’t save other programs being cut, nor will it restore what’s been cut in the past. But, along with the massive reform effort we have launched, and with the active partnership of thousands of employees who are voluntarily giving up their cost-of-living raises and helping us find real efficiencies, Prop 1 can stop the bleeding. Without Prop 1, we face permanently degraded justice.
Why should you care? We have made great progress in our county, including Seattle, over the past decade—in focusing on the root causes of crime and other social ills, rather than relying only on the very expensive warehousing of more and more people. Programs like family court, community policing with an emphasis on safe neighborhoods and crime prevention, help for domestic violence and sexual assault victims—all of these reflect our values and protect our communities. All of these, and support systems for others like drug and mental health court services, are at risk without Proposition 1. And 40 percent of the money raised by Prop 1 goes to cities also struggling to deliver basic services—in Seattle this means over $22 million over the next two years to help meet complex and diverse public safety and human service needs.
It is not acceptable to let those who choose to commit crimes get away with hurting others. It is not acceptable to abandon crime victims to fend for themselves. It is not acceptable to discard those who end up in jail because of a treatable mental illness or addiction. We deserve a community with safety for everyone, with justice for everyone, and not just for those who can afford it. We can’t have that if we continue to erode the foundations of our most basic civic institutions. I have to believe we are better than that.
I urge you to support Proposition 1 when your ballot arrives in the mail.
(The voters guide statement on Prop 1 is here. )