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King County threatens cuts to $511M budget in 2025 if state keeps tax cap

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(The Center Square) – King County Executive Dow Constantine announced his mid-biennial budget for 2024, but a glaring $100 million revenue shortfall in 2025 could lead to drastic cuts within county government if the state doesn’t allow them to increase taxes more than current law allows.

Constantine’s 2024 budget proposal is set at $511 million, with money going to a number of initiatives. This includes $109 million to acquire more than 3,200 acres of land through Conservation Futures levy and Parks levy funds; $1.7 million to create a new park ranger program; shifting $1.5 million in funding from the adult Community Diversion Program to the juvenile Restorative Community Pathways program; and $600,000 in funding to maintain cleanup services in unincorporated parts of King County.

However, the county’s general fund is considered to be at a breaking point in the proposed budget.

“This budget takes advantage of every tool and resource we have, but we don’t have any tricks up our sleeve left in the general fund,” King County Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget Director Dwight Dively said in a statement.

In order to avoid future cuts to a number of county-funded programs in 2025, Dively and Constantine said the state Legislature needs to remove the 1% cap on property tax collection, which has not been updated in over 20 years.

Since the cap was instituted in 2001, Washington counties do not have the ability to impose business and utility taxes, unlike cities and the state. County officials previously said this limit does not keep up with King County’s population growing 30%, while consumer prices have increased 70% since 2001.

Inflation has also been as high as 9.5% since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the county, property tax collections have grown only an average of 2.7% in recent years.

The proposed budget includes $19 million in savings for the general fund, including $12.6 million in reductions to general fund programs.

“Without significant state legislative action, in September 2024 I will be compelled to transmit a 2025 proposed budget with much more severe general fund cuts,” Constantine wrote in a letter to the King County Council. “At this time, it appears these cuts will require eliminating nearly all remaining general fund support for human services and our public health clinics.”

Additional reductions to programs and services that help people in the legal system are also on the table for next year.

The new budget proposal is expected to be heard in the King County Budget and Fiscal Management Committee in the coming weeks. The proposed budget for 2025 is to be introduced sometime in September 2024.

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