Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Over 650 Voices Have Joined The King County Budget Debate: How About You?

by October 22nd, 2010

This is the final week to take the online survey and attend in-person forums on King County’s budget crisis through Countywide Community Forums. Over the past four weeks, we have presented the $63 million dollar question: Do we cut costs, or do we raise more tax revenue to fill the budget gap?

Over 650 people from around the county representing diverse communities and interests have weighed in on the budget shortfall. I’ve had the pleasure of attending and facilitating a number of these forums and have to say, that despite what would be the typical divide among the broad based camps of program cuts versus tax increases, there is an undeniable consensus emerging. Yes, there are strong opinions in many corners that generating revenues and new tax sources are essential to save existing programs, or that cutting programs, or labor costs are the way to go. But what has emerged over the past four weeks is a collective understanding that we can’t keep doing things the way we have always done it in the past.

What has emerged… is a collective understanding that we can’t keep doing things the way we have always done it in the past.

You don’t have to agree on everything to know that asking the right questions of our elected officials starts with the attitude of “why not?” It’s a point of accountability between those who govern and the governed where every question begins with the premise that the status quo is no longer acceptable. The substance of the forums and online discussions has not just been about cutting this program or saving that program, but about the broader issues of “how” and “why” King County government does what it does.

Here is a sampling of comments and questions from some of the Countywide Community Forum (CCF) meetings:

– King County is structured on a government model from the 1950s. We need to look at restructuring county government that takes into account regional services such as transportation or sewage treatment, and those services that are duplicated locally or by the state.

– Why doesn’t the county utilize volunteers such as retirees with skill sets and experience that can meet program needs and lower labor costs?

– If health care costs for employees are the largest contributor to the structural budget gap, why hasn’t that been addressed?

– Why do we still have such a regressive tax system, when there are existing alternatives to collecting taxes that are both fairer and less volatile during economic downturns?

– Why do we spend so much on public safety and prosecuting criminals when there are programs and nonprofit organizations that have a successful record of preventing criminal behavior especially in young people?

– Why did King County not implement the cost-saving measures recommended by the state Auditor and make the necessary changes in how agency and program money is tracked and outcomes are measured for success?

– Why do we not use a zero-based budgeting structure to help determine where the money is best allocated?

– Why are we asking the employees who actually deliver services to cut their salaries first instead of cutting mid and upper-level management positions and salaries of political appointees?

From the individuals, business groups, nonprofits, and community organizations that have joined this round of CCF forums, it is apparent that people care deeply about the role and scope of government, and the services that King County provides. Councilmember Julia Patterson captures this belief when she says in the CCF budget video, “Maybe the pressure to balance the budget will mean that we come up with better ways of doing things.”

That’s an outcome I want to see. Are you a part of this conversation? Take the survey today. It’s available until this Saturday, Oct. 23rd.

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