If You Aren't Running for Office, It's All Doom and Gloom at King County

Kurt Triplett, Harbinger of Doom
King County is facing a $100-plus million deficit over the next two years. But to watch Larry Phillips' recent ad, you'd think things are honky-dory; so bright in fact, we've gotta wear shades *wink*! The rest of the Executive hopefuls aren't necessarily so chipper, but they still spin toward the positive. People like Fred Jarrett and Ross Hunter say the county has a bloated budget, but they tend toward phrases like "efficiency" and "streamlining" rather than sadness-inducing specifics like "mothballing parks."

Interim King County Executive Kurt Triplett is not running for office and has become the rhetorical equivalent of a man walking around in tattered clothes carrying a sign declaring "The End is Nigh!" Today he held a press conference saying he will propose cutting 257 positions in county administration--the people who work for the Council and Executive--and most services and programs--like animal control and internal audits--that aren't mandated by the state. And yes, he says, county parks in unincorporated areas will be closed, fenced off, and allowed to grow wild and uncontrolled. Altogether the budget slashing Triplett announced today amounts to about $18.7 million, about a third of the $56 million the county has to cut in order to balance its books this year. "These cuts are real, they are deep, and they are likely to be permanent," Triplett said.

Council members/candidates Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips both kicked out press releases a short time later praising Triplett for making the cuts to internal staff. But they are also quick to question some of the more politically touchy budget slashing. Constantine went says the 39 county parks Triplett is threatening to cut can be saved by offering employees $300 to switch to a significantly cheaper health care plan. Constantine also says additional money can be found by getting more unincorporated areas to annex (the southern half of White Center is voting on joining Burien in the current primary) and convincing the unions to take additional unpaid days off next year.

Phillips' release focuses on Triplett's proposal for cutting $413,000 from the Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management, aka the office that is supposed to make sure things are being done on time and on budget. Given the fallout from the earlier audit report on the county roads department, cutting that budget isn't really something a candidate is going to want to support.

Perhaps more meaningful than what is or is not politically feasible is whether or not any of the proposals will make headway with the unions. Both Triplett's and the candidates' plans for balancing the budget this year involves making changes to health care benefits or asking the unions to accept unpaid time off. Triplett says he's still working out what he can get from organized labor, which represents 12,500 of the county's 14,000 employees.

And of course, looming on the horizon is the question of how the county will deal with a projected $60 million deficit next year. Triplett says his proposed cuts won't solve that problem.

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