November 24, 2020
2021-2022 King County Biennial Budget Update
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
Last week, the King County Council adopted King County’s 2021-2022 Biennial Budget. It is a $12.5 billion two-year budget covering all of King County’s operations. As Vice-Chair of the Budget Committee, I worked closely with Chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles to help the Council complete its work on the budget. Along with five special CARES Act budgets to address COVID-19 impacts, and two supplemental budgets, the 2021-22 Biennial Budget was the 8th budget council adopted in 2021.
While there were significant adverse impacts to King County’s finances resulting from the economic impacts related to COVID-19 and the response to it, we adopted a balanced budget that will deliver the vital services our residents need. We are relatively fortunate in that the foundation of King County’s finances is property taxes, which are relatively stable compared to governments that rely more heavily on business taxes. We did see declines in certain key funding sources such as sales tax, lodging tax and car rental taxes, each of which is dedicated to specific programs (e.g., transit, mental health, affordable housing and amateur recreation programs).
Our years of fiscal prudence building up the maximum allowable rainy-day reserve is now paying dividends. These savings accounts have allowed us to continue our public health response to COVID-19’s impacts and mitigate operational impacts to critical services. And, King County’s AAA bond rating was just affirmed by three rating agencies. That saves significant interest costs when King County borrows funds for capital projects, keeping tax and utility rates lower.
Collectively, these budgets play an important role as our region braces for a new wave of COVID-19 infections, and individuals and businesses prepare for additional economic impacts from the new stay-at-home guidance. We have prioritized essential investments in affordable housing, human services, personal protective equipment, COVID-19 isolation centers, and our mental health system.
While I endeavor to take a county-wide perspective in all council work, I do also work to ensure that the communities I represent in District 1 have their needs addressed. Below I have included detailed updates on recent District 1 investments and some highlights from the 2021-22 Biennial Budget.
Thank you for taking a few moments to review this update. Please take care this Thanksgiving and help us in our collective efforts to slow the significant community spread of COVID-19 that we are now seeing.
King County Council
2021-2022 Biennial Budget Highlights
King County’s $12.5 Billion Biennial budget covers a wide array of public services, including transit, housing, public health, human services, criminal justice, water quality, solid waste, parks and open space, and local services, like rural roads and bridges, as well as all of the government operations required to deliver these services. A newsletter summary just touches the highlights. If you’re interested in learning more about the County budget, you can find more details here.
Housing and Human Services
In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, supporting those in need is more important than ever. Investments in Housing and Human Services include:
• Adoption of the Health Through Housing Program to acquire permanent supportive housing for up to 2,000 people suffering from chronic homelessness, using bond proceeds from a 1/10th of penny sales tax to acquire existing hotels, motels, and nursing homes to provide housing quickly for those who need it most.
• $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 International District and to plan to expand the program to Ballard Commons, Lake City, West Seattle Junction and other urban villages.
• $2 million to support Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) behavioral health and recovery programs impacted by the loss of sales tax revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
• $4.25 million to operate isolation and quarantine facilities related to COVID-19 in King County for an additional month.
Reforming the Criminal Legal System
Efforts to reform our criminal legal system to make it more equitable and just for all, and improve public safety outcomes, won’t come easily or quickly. It will take sustained work across multiple sectors and consistent and persistent focus to modernize and reform our centuries-old system. I believe we should shift from an arrest-prosecute-confine model, to a prevent-care-restore model, wherever possible, while ensuring public safety. With this overarching goal in mind, we made the following investments:
• $4.6 million in marijuana excise tax revenue diverted from law enforcement to instead fund community-based programs that support reversing some of the disproportionate damage the war on drugs placed on Black communities.
• $6 million for Restorative Community Pathways that will provide comprehensive, community-based services to 800 young people in lieu of filing criminal charges. The Council added a requirement that $1.5 million be used to build capacity of community-based organizations, and deliver a plan for approval before implementing the new system.
• $780,000 for the RADAR/Navigator program in North King County, which pairs a mental health navigator with police officers to help respond to those experiencing a mental health crisis and other challenges. We appropriated $400,000 in additional funding to expand the program to unincorporated King County.
• $1.2 million and four full-time employees to support expansion of electronic home monitoring.
• Funding to develop a plan to close the new youth jail and replace it with alternatives. This item was both gratifying and frustrating, as I had argued a few years ago that we were building an outdated jail that would soon be obsolete. I argued that we should build a contemporary alternative system instead. It was not a wise use of taxpayer funds to proceed to complete a new jail that we are now on a course to mothball. Those funds could and should have been used to build a system and facilities for justice-involved youth that reflect today’s knowledge and best practices. We are on that course now, but it will be costly.
Affordable and Accessible Transit
Metro faces a $200 million shortfall in expected sales tax revenue, so it was one of our tougher budgets. Council’s approved budget helps ensure that transit continues to provide its vital services across the County. We did not assume passage of Prop 1 in Seattle, and so additional Metro budget work will continue in 2021. While prioritizing access to transit we made the following investments:
• Funding to continue the electrification of our transit fleet, with a plan to acquire 300 electric coaches by 2028. This work has slowed, but it remains my top priority at Metro. I believe the new Biden administration will make significant funding for electrification of transit fleets available, and I want King County to be the national leader to secure those funds, build out the bases and charging infrastructure and workforce we need to put an end to diesel-powered transit.
• Funding to 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.
• $500,000 is included to begin planning for previously studied water taxi routes from Kenmore and Shilshole Bay to connection nodes in Seattle.
Recent District 1 Investments
I have worked to secure several important investments for North King County communities. I am very pleased to partner with the City of Shoreline, the Shoreline School District and the Lake Forest Park and Shoreline Rotaries to secure annual funding for a YouthCare Homeless Youth resource counselor. This position will connect young people experiencing housing instability in the Shoreline School District with the help they need. I’ve also worked to bring significant resources to acquire key lands for expanded parks, including trails in Woodinville, open space in Finn Hill, and an incredible waterfront park in Lake Forest Park that will be a “crown jewel” stopping point along the Burke-Gillman Trail. Lastly, our budget includes millions of dollars for north end senior centers. Here is a summary map showing selected recent District 1 investments:
Fifth COVID-19 Supplemental Budget Highlights
As I have reported in past e-newsletters, the Federal Government allocated $262 million to King County from the CARES Act. There are limitations on what the funds can be used for, including that they may only be used for costs related to COVID-19 pandemic response, cannot be used to replace lost revenue, and must be used by December 30, 2020. The Council decided to allocate these funds through five separate COVID-19 Supplemental Budgets. With the fifth and final budget, we have officially allocated the entire amount of our Federal CARES Act allocation.
These budgets have been crucial in helping stop the spread of COVID-19, aiding those in need, and keeping our economy moving. Now is the time for the United States Congress to immediately pass a second Federal CARES Act, so we are able to continue responding to the increased needs of our residents. People and businesses are hurting, and our region needs the additional aid.
Highlights from the fifth COVID-19 Supplemental Budget include:
• $5.8M for isolation and quarantine facilities
• $16M for personal protective equipment
• $5.2M for public health including testing, vaccine planning, homeless response
• $1M to assist people with digital access barriers
• $500K for rental housing assistance
• $2M for emergency behavioral health funds
• $1M for before and after school program public health supplies
• $850K for visitor-oriented venues and programs to help these struggling organizations