Seattle and King County budget proposals and revenue questions

On Monday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine each released their 2015-16 budget proposals.

Murray proposes a budget that would total $4.8 billion per year. General fund spending would account for about $1 billion of that, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2014.

The proposal does not include new revenue. Even so, Crosscut reports,

“We are now the fastest-growing city in America,” the mayor said during his speech in the City Council chambers Monday afternoon. “And yet, the city budget is not keeping pace with existing demand for services.” . . .

At a press briefing after the speech, city budget director Ben Noble noted that, in the wake of cuts brought on by the recession, city departments are seeking fresh resources.

“The departments have had a pent-up demand,” he said. “They’re hungry and thirsty to break free of that, and they have a long list of ideas and staffing needs.”

“We’re not seeing the kind of revenue growth to support that,” Noble added. . . .

Licata, who chairs the Council’s Budget Committee, was generally supportive of the mayor’s proposal, but there was one thing he did not hear in the speech.

“I think the biggest unspoken element was the need for new revenue,” he said.

Licata’s preferences for generating new city income would be a commercial parking tax increase, a so-called “head-tax” on businesses, which would be based on the number of their employees, and fees charged to developers.

KUOW reports that such new revenues may not be supported by the mayor:

“In building the budget, the mayor’s clear direction was that he was not interested in imposing new taxes,” Noble said. With the city’s new minimum law about to take effect, “he didn’t think it was time to impose additional burdens on the businesses in Seattle.”

PubliCola notes,

Licata said he was willing to propose the once-toxic head tax again, but “not as a futile exercise”—that is, only if the rest of the council gets on board.

“I don’t see a great wellspring of support for going back to … property taxes, B&O taxes, and sales taxes,” Licata [. . .] added. “I think we’re reaching the saturation point for some of those traditional revenue streams.”

Meanwhile, Constantine’s budget proposal is $8.9 billion (including $1.5 billion of general fund spending). KUOW reports:

The proposal calls for the county to eliminate 500 positions, which Constantine believes would be the largest-ever slash to its workforce. The reduction includes 200 layoffs; the rest are jobs left vacant after people retire or transfer.

Constantine blames the cuts on Olympia. “We cannot keep the level of services unless somebody in Olympia steps up and starts fixing a tax system that is broken,” he said. “It is widely considered to be the worst in the country.” . . .

Constantine called on state lawmakers to pass a transportation tax package to help pay for roads and transit. He also wants the ability to increase property taxes – yet again, that’s up to the Legislature. State law limits local governments to a 1 percent annual increase on property taxes.

Additionally, the Seattle Times reports

King County may ask voters next fall to approve a new levy for early childhood programs and other youth services . . . .

Constantine is calling the levy proposal Best Starts for Kids. He provided no specifics Monday, saying the details will be hammered out over the next several months.