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Originally published November 2, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified November 2, 2010 at 10:55 PM

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Voters reject King County tax increase for justice services

Nearly 57 percent of King County voters rejected an increase in sales taxes to pay for criminal-justice services.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Nearly 57 percent of King County voters rejected an increase in sales taxes to pay for criminal-justice services.

County Executive Dow Constantine said Tuesday night that the loss will mean "significant cuts to the justice system." It would have raised an additional $48.7 million per year for the county, with an additional $32.5 million divided among 39 cities on a per-capita basis.

"It will have a real impact on people, not just in unincorporated areas," Constantine said. "It really is systemwide."

After pushing for the tax, Sheriff Sue Rahr and County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg declined to comment. Maurice Classen, the manager for the campaign, said they were disappointed by the results but that they knew asking for a sales-tax increase in tough economic times was a longshot.

Existing tax sources haven't kept up with rising costs, and Constantine said that without the tax increase the county would have to cut prosecutors, probation officers, family-court staffers, victims advocates and sheriff's detectives who investigate property crimes.

Despite Constantine's dire predictions, the tax struggled to gain support. The proposal, which would cost the typical King County household about $45 a year, would raise the sales tax by two-tenths of a cent to 9.7 cents on a $1 purchase. It came after months of partisan disagreement on the Metropolitan King County Council about how best to raise money for the county's shortfall.

Republicans on the council rejected a proposal for a criminal-justice property tax, and Democrats rejected a Republican proposal to balance a public-safety tax with cuts of equal size from property taxes, the parks-expansion levy and the transit tax.

Proposition 1 was a compromise, and one that some on the council still oppose. Despite the promise of more money, cash-strapped city leaders were hesitant to endorse the tax.

Opponents of the increase said the county should have done more to reduce labor costs before coming to voters for an increase. The county was able to negotiate pay freezes with some unions, but not all. Sheriff's deputies, for example, have not agreed to give up a 5 percent raise next year.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

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