Update: The sales tax is dead, at least for the August ballot. King County Councilmember Larry Phillips finally decided to support the measure, but the Republicans all balked. That left it short the necessary six votes. The council will convene tomorrow morning to discuss squeezing a property tax measure onto the ballot.
Even if the sales tax passes, Rahr might still need to cut deputies next year.
Update: The County Council is still taking public testimony on the sales tax right now, but in the meantime, King County Executive Dow Constantine's spokesperson Frank Abe called to argue that the tax makes future budget problems more surmountable. See below.
Flanked by men (and a few women) in uniform, King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, and other court officials begged the King County Council to vote today to put a 0.2 sales tax increase on the ballot in November.
Without the tax hike, Rahr said, she will have to cut 70 deputy positions and the prosecutor will ax 36 attorneys. That means that, starting in 2011, if someone breaks into your car in an unincorporated area like White Center, no detective will try to help you get your stuff back and prosecutors might not charge the thief even if you manage to catch him with your bare hands. "We'll give you a case number and tell you to call your insurance company," said Rahr.
But even if the tax passes the council at 1:30 today, Rahr, Satterberg and company are a long way from preventing that scenario. The tax would still need voter approval in August. And even if it passes then, it only solves the county's budget problem for a year. At this time next year, the county will be facing an even bigger deficit, one the sales tax won't really cover. And that's something no one talked about in front of the cameras.
Based on current revenues (without a sales tax increase) and expenses, King County budget staff are expecting an $80 million shortfall in 2012. The sales tax is only expected to bring in an extra $45 million or so every year, so the county will still have $35 million budget problem on its hands.
Rahr doesn't really have a plan for dealing with that. She says she's consolidating precincts to save on administrative costs and looking for other ways to make the department run more efficiently, but that's about it so far. "What this sales tax does is buys us some time," she said in a later interview.
If the proposal for a tax vote fails today, King County Council President Bob Ferguson says he'll try to get a last minute property tax hike proposal together tomorrow. But that too will fall well short of dealing with the 2012 shortfall.
King County Executive Dow Constantine's Spokesperson Frank Abe says that if the tax passes, the Executive is confident that he can cover the difference by shrinking the King County government every year. Constantine will need to find $13 million this year to make the budget balance, even if the tax passes, Abe points out, and he thinks he can keep that up.
"The idea is to keep the pressure on for the government to keep finding savings and efficiencies in the realm of $10 to $15 million every year," Abe says. Where exactly that money will come from he didn't say.