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Monday, October 13, 2008

Sims Announces Major Budget Cuts; More, Possibly, To Come

posted by on October 13 at 14:38 PM

King County Executive Ron Sims just announced what he called an “unconventional” plan to reduce the county budget by $93 million, the projected shortfall for next year. In addition to slashing jobs across the board—400 positions, “some of them friends I have known for decades,” will be cut—Sims proposed creating a “lifeboat” fund that would keep certain critical services, including public safety, human services, health, and housing programs, afloat until after the next session of the state legislature. The county hopes to convince legislators in Olympia to give it new authority to fix a structural deficit that can be blamed largely on Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747, which limits property tax increases to one percent a year. (Although the courts struck 747 down, the state legislature codified it in 2007). If legislators decline to lift the property-tax cap or give the county another avenue for raising revenues, those “lifeboat” programs—which will cost the county about $12 million to maintain for half a year—will go away. By 2012, Sims estimated, the county’s parks system would have to be shuttered as well.

The county council is in recess, and is expected to respond to Sims’s budget announcement in a moment.

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And gregoire is championing her work on capping property taxes at 1%. Talk about disconnect from reality.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 13, 2008 2:42 PM

And to clarify what is likely obvious to most...the reason why I-747 has created a "structural deficit" is that the cost to government to provide services increases by more than 1% each year

Posted by LH | October 13, 2008 2:47 PM

I want to give up on King County. We can't trust the regressives in the deep South, in eastern Washington, or even eastside King County (like Tim Eyman).

I think a weak county (and state) government and a strong city government is the best thing for all of us.

Posted by jrrrl | October 13, 2008 2:50 PM

@3 Tim Eyman lives in Snohomish County, and King County isn't governed by regressives.

Posted by lorax | October 13, 2008 2:52 PM

Would you provide us a link to the announcement so we can see what, in specific, will be cut?

Posted by melissa | October 13, 2008 2:53 PM

Maybe you should charge $.25 per plastic bag instead?

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | October 13, 2008 2:54 PM

Everyone who insists on supporting this stupid sales tax based funding system we've got is a regressive.

Posted by melissa | October 13, 2008 2:55 PM

If Sims is looking to cut important services he needs to come out and tell us why he's maintaining the Ride Free Area in downtown. It is costing King County Metro a fortune to maintain ever since the business association stopped paying for it when the tunnel closed. I would rather people paid a fair fare downtown than lose other county services.

Posted by fatcat1111 | October 13, 2008 2:57 PM

Endorsments on the cover, both weeks leading up to the election. Cariacature of Tim Eyman and Dino smashing the city.

You know you want to. C'mon!

Posted by AJ | October 13, 2008 3:07 PM

Sims wanted to switch over to a state income tax during his run for governor four years ago... remember how popular that was?

Posted by Greg | October 13, 2008 3:08 PM

Taxes are never popular, but neither is having your state turn into southern california...

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 13, 2008 3:12 PM

Riding the gravy train has come to an end.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | October 13, 2008 3:14 PM

@8 - The county is reimbursed by the city for lost fare revenues in the ride free zone. And even if the Ride Free Zone didn't exist, transit would still need to be subsidized heavily - fares only account for 20% of metro's operating costs.

For everyone else - time for Civics and Econ 101: Government depends upon taxing private economic activity in order to maintain public services. When economic growth slows or recedes, it stands to reason that government's revenues would slow or decline. Even if Eyman's initiatives didn't exist, how could government continue to "grow" at the same time the rest of the economy is shrinking? What puts governments like King County in a bind is when they spend 100% of the revenue that comes in the door instead of setting aside portions for the inevitable cycles of economic downturn. It doesn't matter what you tax - income, property, sales - it will all slow or decline in an economic downturn. Instead of a steady maintenance of governmental services from thoughtful governments with a long-range view, poorly planned governments that always spend to their limits boom and bust with the economy - like King County.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | October 13, 2008 3:16 PM

Sims' speech was delivered out of both sides of his mouth. One side said we shouldn't blame but we should fix the problem.

The other one blamed the global financial crisis and structural problems caused by the state.

Neither is true. Ron has known this is coming for at least 20 years. Anyone who has watched Growth Management and the County knew it was coming.

Ron has refused to reduce the size and number of services provided by the County even though many of them are redundant.

Let's face it, Ron was doing this because he was planning to put the turd in someone else's pocket when he got elected to higher office. Now he's holding it.

Growth management mandates that growth happen in cities, and when cities incorporate the County Government should get smaller. Ron kept everyone on the payroll to keep labor happy. Now nobody is.

Please, please people stop voting for Ron Sims. At worst he is not truthful and at best he's an amiable guy who gives weepy speeches. Please, let's elect someone who can re-size King County government.

Posted by Lifeboat Larry | October 13, 2008 3:18 PM

By the way, for some perspective on King County's "poverty" - their 2006 budget was $3.35 billion. This budget is $4.9 billion. That's a 50% increase in three years.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | October 13, 2008 3:35 PM

And over the next few years the assessors office will have to adjust the value of property in king county down, as property values decline. So, even less money from property taxes. Take THAT, government!

Posted by heh heh | October 13, 2008 3:35 PM

Yeah, stupid government, trying to tax things and stuff. That'll learn ole john law when he tries to take me in for my deft evasions.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 13, 2008 3:41 PM

Just what we need, more job losses to accelerate the downward spiral of the economy.

Hasn't ANYONE take Keynesian Economics?

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 13, 2008 3:51 PM

Recessions are inevitable. In that sense, this was predictable. But this particular recession is worse because of the failures of the national government. Sims should have done more to prepare, but at the same time he is right to put a large portion of the blame on others.

In the short term, we'll need cuts. But we could also use more reliable sources of revenue. An income tax targeting high incomes would bring in more money without having a significant impact on economic growth. How about Bernie Sanders' 10% surcharge on incomes over $1 million/year, which would bring in over a billion dollars in annual revenue if it were enacted statewide?

In the long-term, we should question whether county government even makes sense in metro areas. Is it possible to save money by folding the function of the county into programs at the city and/or state level where it makes sense? Where individual locality government is too local and state government is too remote, metropolitan regional government seems a better choice than county government.

Posted by Cascadian | October 13, 2008 3:52 PM

Yeah Will, they were debunked for the most part.

Cascadian, the problem with an entire metro area voting district and improvement district is deadlock infrastructure improvement votes. Why should X region in the district pay for Y improvement over there?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 13, 2008 4:11 PM

In the long-term, we should question whether county government even makes sense in metro areas. Is it possible to save money by folding the function of the county into programs at the city and/or state level where it makes sense? Where individual locality government is too local and state government is too remote, metropolitan regional government seems a better choice than county government.

AMEN, Cascadian, AMEN!

Posted by Lifeboat Larry | October 13, 2008 5:23 PM

@ 13
Your wrong. Metro is not nearly reimbursed for the cost of the RFA. 325,00 dollars a year is insignificant to all the rides taken in the RFA (not even including those that just board or de-board in the RFA.) The agreement was originally between Metro when it was operated by Seattle, when it transitioned to King county- the agreement grandfathered in.
Why should the county subsidize the City of Seattle's DBA?
Also, the ride free area creates most of the fare evasion issues. The County Sheriffs have long petitioned to eliminate the RFA. It has significant security costs.
There's the whole confusion of when to have fare ready, it bogs down loading and unloading times.
Transportation is changing. How much more should the average person keep shelling out to pay for subsidiaries such as the RFA?
As A side note- #1 the route 99 (old street car) is entirely a fare loss. #2 Many of the new buses are used for Seattle Public School trippers (bus rides.)- as well as a lot of security expenditures. Once again, the county is burdened by the cost that should be taken on by the city of Seattle.

Posted by Kat | October 13, 2008 8:50 PM

Holy crap. Sims actually believes that the STATE will fix this? I wish, I wish, I wish and click your heels together.

The man is completely nutters. Check out his blog today: did he write about the King County budget? Uh. No. Did he write about laying off employees? Uh. No. Did he write about what will happen if the unions "decline" to freeze cost of living and step increases? Uh. No.

Sweet baby jesus, that man is completly off his rocker.

Anybody but Sims in 2009. Run, Larry, run!!

Posted by janedoe | October 13, 2008 9:13 PM

Public safety and health I get, but Ron thinks housing programs belong in the lifeboat?! I'm sorry, but some places (Seattle and Berverly Hills) are expensive and some places (Kent and Mississippi) are cheap, and it's not an essential function of government to ensure that you can live in the expensive places even if you can only afford the cheap ones. Move to Kent or Mississippi already.

Posted by David Wright | October 13, 2008 10:45 PM

@22 - I believe I was correcting an earlier post that indicated A.) that the business association used to pay for the RFA; and B.) that the county budget crisis could be resolved by eliminating the RFA.

But if it makes you feel any better, pretend I inserted the word "partially" into the first sentence of my post @13.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | October 14, 2008 12:35 AM

@25 - Who said that eliminating the RFA would resolve the budget crisis?

Note that I'm not suggesting complete fare recovery, I'm suggesting that the DBA fully funds the RFA or the county stops providing this benefit to them.

Posted by fatcat1111 | October 14, 2008 11:26 AM

@26 - You did. The phrase, "I would rather people paid a fair fare downtown than lose other county services," implies a correlation between low bus fares and cuts to other county services. If only it were that easy.

Not that it matters, but I don't have a problem with eliminating the RFA. I just know that doing so won't reduce the need to cut "other county services."

Posted by Lionel Hutz | October 14, 2008 11:54 AM

The RFA is a county subsidy to the city of Seattle's DBA. It needs to end. It may not eliminate the deficit, but it will help.
As a bus driver, I watch many struggle with fare increases.
Metro also refuses to enforce fares. This attributes to many of the security issues that plague Metro's system (costs money.)
Many are paying $4.50 a day to go back and forth to work. Fare is going up- Sims requested a fare increase for October to the council in August, but withdrew- not knowing the relevant fare increases.
It's coming. Why should Joe Shmoe pay $6.00 a day to commute (with a boxed lunch, almost the hourly for min wage), when Lindsay can ride from Centuary Square to the ID for nill? Or the Westin guests pay nothing to travel around town? No other city offers this, but they all still thrive. I spent $50 in transit costs to visit DC this summer. It was just part of the trip cost.
The county is crying bankrupt- but still offering subsidies to the few and privileged. CUT THEM FIRST.
Cutting jobs is a scare tactic. We have fat to trim- start there first.

Posted by Kat | October 14, 2008 11:49 PM

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