At a time of immense division across the political and social spectrum, the King County Council again demonstrated its ability to come together to invest in the region’s future with the passage of a landmark $12.59 billion budget for the next two years.
With funding for anti-racist programs, transformation of the criminal legal system, public health and major investment in regional supportive housing, the council’s 2021-22 biennial budget responds to the needs of residents across King County as well as to building back our economy for the future.
“At a time when our country is facing so much political dysfunction and economic uncertainty, the King County Council and Executive Constantine have teamed up in working collaboratively on a budget that truly delivers for our region even in the midst of a worsening pandemic and with the need to make painful cuts,” said Jeanne Kohl-Welles, King County Council Budget Chair. “We have passed a budget for the next two years that invests with purpose, makes responsible reductions, supports our BIPOC communities and vulnerable populations, and does so in a way that is fiscally prudent and sustainable. I applaud the Executive and his team for working with us in laying down an effective and systemic framework. And I commend my fellow Councilmembers for having stepped up to the vast and continually evolving challenges we have faced in working for the public good under extraordinarily difficult conditions for the entire county.”
The economic recession driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the need to respond to systemic racism highlighted by events this year, uncertainties about continuation of federal COVID-19 response assistance and the outcome of the Presidential election made for a host of challenges in crafting a budget this year. Despite that, Councilmembers were able to collaborate with Executive Dow Constantine to finalize a budget of which they can all be proud.
Investments against racism
The approved budget represents major investments against historical racism and oppression, including around the criminal legal system. The Council approved proposals to shift $4.6 million in marijuana excise tax revenue away from law enforcement and toward community-based programs that support reversing some of the disproportionate damage the war on drugs placed on Black communities.
Building on that, the Council also added requirements in the budget for Metro to reimagine its transit police duties and operations and to report on the future of fare collection, all with an eye toward making transit more equitable and accessible to all.
Beyond funding the Restorative Community Pathways diversion program with more than $6 million that will provide comprehensive, community-based services to 800 young people in lieu of filing criminal charges, the Council also added a requirement that $1.5 million be used to build capacity at community-based organizations involved in work related to the restorative community pathways diversion program.
While the budget did push for transformation of law enforcement and the criminal legal system, it also continued to invest in policies that help keep communities safe, including adding $1.2 million and four full-time employees to support expansion of electronic home monitoring to 24/7.
Additionally, the Council approved as part of the budget $500,000 to fund pre-apprenticeship programs in two South King County school districts to help better prepare students entering high-paying trades and technical careers through apprenticeship training. This funding is included as part of the county’s priority hire program.
Housing and support for those who need it
Included in the budget is a small sales tax increase that will allow the county to create permanent supportive housing for up to 2,000 people suffering from chronic homelessness. The approved measure will use bonding against proceeds from a 0.1% sales tax increase generating $340 million to purchase disused existing hotels, motels, and nursing homes to provide housing quickly for those who need it most.
Additionally, the approved budget invests in community engagement and support programs, including $1 million for a White Center Community HUB project, $1.65 million to extend the Public Defenders Association’s JustCARES program that provides emergency housing and support services for individuals suffering from chronic homelessness in Pioneer Square and Chinatown/International District with planning to take place to expand the program to Ballard Commons, Lake City, West Seattle Junction and other urban villages. The budget also includes $2 million to support MIDD behavioral health and recovery programs reduced by the loss of sales tax revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, with future federal funds unknown at this time, the budget adds $4.25 million for an additional month to operate isolation and quarantine facilities related to COVID-19 in King County.
Equitable access and ensuring the future of transit
With Metro facing a $200 million shortfall in expected sales tax revenue, the Council-approved budget helps ensure that transit continues to provide its vital services across the county and works to improve access for all.
Funding included in the budget will support expansion of youth ORCA card distribution and transit education in schools, planning for restart of RapidRide lines, updates to Access paratransit, a study on the feasibility of transit-oriented development at the Shoreline Park and Ride, and much more.
Additionally, $500,000 is included to begin planning for previously studied water taxi routes from Kenmore and Shilshole (Ballard).
King County Council Budget Vice Chair Rod Dembowski:
“As Vice-chair of the budget committee it’s been an honor to work with our budget Chair, Councilmember Kohl-Welles, to put this 2021-22 biennial budget together. This budget reflects our values: responding to the pandemic by fully funding public health and supporting impacted residents. It advances reforms to our criminal legal system, continues our work to make transit accessible for all, and makes critical investments in environmental protection and climate change work. It’s balanced, responsible, reflective of King County’s values and responsive to its needs.”
King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci:
“I’m proud that the Council and the Executive stood together in a time of pandemic and economic crisis to build a budget that provides critical services while retaining the flexibility to navigate the ongoing economic uncertainty we all face. We are making sound investments in programs and projects that will make a difference to people now, while positioning the County toward a better and more equitable future.”
King County Councilmember Joe McDermott:
“There’s no way to overstate how challenging the pandemic has made life for everyone, and the economic impact will continue to cause harm to families, communities and governments for years to come. In the face of these challenges and massive uncertainty and facing revenue shortfalls not seen since the Great Recession, we worked together to craft a budget that promotes smart, targeted investments to help our region move forward.”
The above is a press release from the King County Council. The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its contents and encourages our readers to personally verify any information they find may be overly biased or questionable. The publication of this press release does not indicate an endorsement of its contents.