James Vesely / Times editorial page editor
It's January, 2009: Do you know where your taxes are?
If revenues continue to decline, it will cost more to live in Washington state, and government services will decline.
Times editorial page editor
Executive Proposed Budget Book: www.metrokc.gov/budget/
We live at such a headlong pace, it is already the middle of January, 2009.
The second Monday in January will mark the assembly of the state Legislature, and its pile of woes related to a cumulative $3.2 billion shortfall — for starters.
The state and county tax forecasts are so bad, places such as Ferry County would be bankrupt if not for the infusion of state money. But change is so relentless and swift, we could see even greater impacts on the way we live in Washington state.
Here's some of the things that will affect you the most:
• With King County revenues dangerously fatal, Executive Ron Sims and some other elected officials will go to Olympia looking for a new tax. But it's a tax only on residents of unincorporated King County, who currently do not pay a utility tax. Sims is asking for parity on a utility tax that is paid by city residents but not those living in urban, unincorporated areas.
Sims has tried this before, with Olympia — and the cities — not prone to give the counties the right to put a utility tax on the ballot. But times might be so stretched, Sims has a chance to get a coalition together to persuade the Democrats in Olympia. Then he'll have to convince King County voters to place a tax on residents who don't have one now.
Another interesting twist is the idea of a dedicated revenue source to fund the Public Health Department by taxing bottled water, or by imposing a new sin tax. Perhaps that's redundant since bottled water is now considered a sin.
• Sims and King County Sheriff Sue Rahr are barely on speaking terms — and that's putting it mildly. Asked what he thought of the sheriff's various budget proposals for her department, Sims said, "we haven't heard from her."
Amid the budget troubles, King County sheriff's deputies received a contract with a 5-percent jump in pay. That's compared with 6 percent for Seattle police. Going to 6 percent for deputies was a "nonstarter" Sims said. He controls the right to bargain on behalf of Rahr in her own department, one of the many sticking points between them.
Last week. Rahr said Sims' version of taking money out of mental-health funds is actually only a small percentage of the totality of the county's budget. How does this affect you? The two elected officials are not going to be cooperating much on how the Sheriff's Department is funded or run.
• Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown D-Spokane, told The Times' editorial board Friday morning that an increase in tuition for the state's colleges and universities is "quite likely." Absent revenues, lawmakers are already looking for other sources, which would include fees and one-time costs.
"Everything has to be on the table," Brown said. "Including teachers' COLA (cost of living adjustments), K-12 funding and funding higher education."
Meanwhile, the University of Washington is going ahead with plans to seek funding for a new football stadium, something that Brown greeted with kind of an amused skepticism.
• At the King County bench, additional costs will be placed on court filings and there will be fewer court officers on watch. The county prosecutor's office is modifying its definition of some crimes from felony to misdemeanor to move more cases to lower courts.
Sheriff Rahr said there may be a change in property-crime enforcement. If a break-in doesn't involve more than $10,000 worth of goods, the county will not pursue an investigation.
With King County as much as $90 million out of whack, depending on how you count it, and the state in the hole by $3 billion-plus even before the year ends, there's lots of talk of "structural change," which does not mean wholesale upending of the tax laws, but a steady, incremental pressure to make small changes — many of them.
If revenues continue to decline, it's hard to imagine the two most significant changes coming: It will cost more to live in Washington state, and government services will decline.
James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org; for a podcast Q&A with the author, go to Opinion at www.seattletimes.com/edcetera
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