King County urges legislators to protect funds for social safety net

January 5, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 8 a.m. Jan. 5, 2011

King County Council members called on state lawmakers to maintain a basic social safety net and to secure a stable funding source for public transportation in the upcoming legislative session. County leaders also seek relief from a state tax ceiling, because the threshold could impact dollars for flood control.

The issues top the legislative agenda adopted by the council Monday.

“This is an ambitious agenda that acknowledges the budget realities facing both King County and the state,” council Chairman Larry Gossett said in a statement. “We realize that because of the state deficit, all state funding is on the chopping block. Our goal with this agenda is to work with the Legislature on revenue ideas that don’t depend on additional resources from Olympia.”

State legislators convene at the Capitol on Jan. 10 for the 105-day session. The state faces a $4.6 billion hole in the 2011-13 budget.

The shortfall is all but certain to prompt deep cuts to state services and support for services the county provides.

The county just endured a tough budget session. The council eliminated 28 deputy positions from the King County Sheriff’s Office and cut school resource officers — including the deputy assigned to Liberty High School — and enacted other cost-cutting measures.

“During the economic recession, Olympia can give us additional tools to meet our financial needs,” Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, the Issaquah representative, said in the statement. “A top priority will be addressing the challenges created by declining property values with authorization to continue collecting funds to pay for flood-protection projects. At the same time, we are asking Olympia not to transfer any new costs to King County so we can live within our budget.”

Lambert, elected to the council in 2001, served in the state House of Representatives from 1995 until she resigned to assume the council post.

The legislative laundry list — adopted in a unanimous decision — encompasses a broad scope. The council and county executive huddle each year to craft a state legislative agenda.

“With all levels of government facing tough budget challenges, the state cannot pass the buck for funding mental health and human services to local communities,” Councilman Bob Ferguson said in the statement. “In this new year, we look forward to working collaboratively with our representatives in Olympia to protect these critical services.”

The council called on legislators shore up dollars to repair roads in unincorporated King County and to change the way mass transit is funded.

King County Metro Transit relies on sales tax revenues — a source hit hard by the economic downturn. If additional stable revenue sources cannot be found, the county estimates Metro Transit could face a yearly operating deficit of $117 million by 2015.

“We must work effectively with our partners in Olympia on solutions to the most critical issues facing King County residents, including stable funding for preserving Metro Transit service to support economic recovery,” Councilman Larry Phillips said in the statement.

The council also supports tools to make annexations of unincorporated areas easier for cities. The legislative wish list also calls for updated ways to fund fish and wildlife habitat protection and restoration.

The continued housing market slide has impacted revenue for the King County Flood Control District.

The decline in assessed property values means some areas in the county could reach the state-imposed local property tax ceiling of $5.90 in 2011. If the ceiling is reached, the most junior district — here, the Flood Control District — has to reduce or stop collecting revenues.

The county seeks temporary relief from the $5.90 ceiling in order to continue collecting dollars for flood-control projects.

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