Rebuttal to the “Pro” Prop 1 Statement in the Voter’s Guide
The Quick Answer
The Statement in Favor of Proposition 1 in the King County Voter’s Guide is vague and misleading.
Read on for more context on the points raised in the statement.
What is RADAR? How does it relate to Proposition 1?
The “Statement in Favor” says:
This levy lid lift, Proposition 1, will preserve current services- such as outreach services to at risk youth. It will enhance a new service -- mental health professionals teamed with police to respond to the growing need for mental health interventions (RADAR). RADAR has been proven to be more effective in helping people impacted by drug and mental health crises.
Let's be clear: Proposition 1 is about raising the Levy Lid on the City's general property tax levy. That levy goes into the City’s general fund which pays for the salaries and expenses of the majority of City employees in all departments. Police services account for roughly 30% of the expenditures from the general fund. The City Manager's office and Administrative Services departments account for a similarly sized chunk of the budget — roughly another 30%. Roughly 15% of the general fund budget goes to the Recreation, Cultural & Community Services department (which includes: “Neighborhoods, Emergency Management Planning, Human Services, Diversity Inclusion, Environmental Services, Recreation, Youth & Teen Development, and Cultural Services”).
Here is a graph showing actual and projected general fund expenditures by department for 20211.
What is RADAR?
RADAR is a joint project between five north King County cities formed to “serve people in crisis coming in contact with law enforcement and the crisis system”. You can read more about RADAR on their website.
It appears that the bulk of the funding for the program thus far has come from various grants, and a county-wide special sales-tax levy2. To date, so far as we can tell, Shoreline’s general fund has contributed very little if at all in the way of funding to RADAR.
Going forward there are plans to create a “Regional Mobile Crisis Response Program”. Projected expenses to Shoreline's general fund for that are $811,000 for the 2023-2024 biennium3. Total budgeted general fund expenditures for the 2021-2022 biennium were over $100 million4, so these costs represent a fraction of a percent of the total general fund budget.
The expansion of the RADAR program (at a budgeted cost of just over $400k per year) is hardly enough to justify a nearly 50% (>$7 million per year in new revenue) permanent tax increase.
What About Inflation?
The “Statement in Favor” claims
Recreation programs, community services and city customer services are at risk due to inflation. Revenue to fund city services will dramatically fall without the levy lid lift. Programs we rely upon will have to be reduced. Voting “yes” on Proposition 1 preserves an array of services for everyone, including the homeless, as well as continues maintenance of our excellent park system and recreation areas.
Again, let's be clear: The City's revenue has been more than keeping pace with the rate of inflation.
For the past twelve years, there have been Levy Lid Lift measures in effect that have allowed the Shoreline general property tax levy to rise with the rate of inflation. (In most years the per-year increase has been capped at the rate of inflation. In two of those twelve years, due to the way Levy Lid Lift measures work, the increase was significantly greater than the rate of inflation.)
One can argue as to whether the City needs even more money, but claiming that the City's revenue is losing out to inflation is disingenuous and misleading.
Revenue Will Not “Dramatically Fall” if Prop 1 Fails
The statement “Revenue to fund city services will dramatically fall without the levy lid lift” is just plain false.
If proposition 1 fails, the City’s general property tax levy in 2023 will be capped at 101% of the 2022 levy. That is, revenue from property taxes will still increase by 1%. Revenue from other sources (like sales, B&O, utility, and gambling taxes) will likely increase by more than that. There is no “dramatic fall”.
Also, note that, should Proposition 1 fail, the City can (and, probably, should) come back to the voters next year with another Levy Lid Lift measure, that sets a more reasonable increment in the general levy.
More on Inflation, Social Programs, Growth
The “Statement in Favor” continues:
Our city is already impacted by higher costs due to inflation, significant growth pressure and the need for new program to address serious social problems. We must step up to ensure the quality of services we rely on and to leverage expected growth.
As stated in the previous section, City revenue has more than kept up with inflation over the last twelve years. The City General Fund's revenue exceeded expenses by over $8 million in 2021, and appears to be heading towards finishing the 2021-2022 biennium with $21 million more in the general fund reserves than was initially forecast5.
On the other hand, inflation affects the tax-payer’s budgets, too. A time of high inflation, such as we find ourselves in now, is not the time to impose a 50% tax increase.
As noted above, the anticipated expenses associated with the “new program to address social problems are peanuts compared to the size of the proposed tax increase.
As for growth, the City itself describes (while justifying the property tax exemptions granted to the new high-density developments going in) just how growth leads to increases in revenue6. For more details see our page on how growth affects the City budget.
About the Citizen Advisory Committee
The “Statement in Favor” concludes with:
A citizen advisory committee composed of your neighbors recommended that the City Council ask Shoreline voters to renew the levy lid lift.
Yes, the Financial Sustainability Advisory Committee did recommend that the Council should put a Levy Lid Lift before the voters. However, the committee did not make a recommendation as to what Levy Rate should be set in the Lid Lift measure. In fact, some members of the committee expressed concerns about adding to the tax burden given inflation, the recently passed 2022 school levies, and parks bond and increasing property taxes. See our page on the FSAC for details and references.
See staff report on Item 9(a) Financial Report and Pre-View of 2023 Budget, page 5 from the September 19 City Council Meeting.↩
See the last question in the City's Proposition 1 FAQ. Part of the answer reads:
In addition to the ongoing sales taxes generated from the new residents, the City also receives one-time sales taxes from the actual construction, Real Estate Excise Taxes from the sale of project sites and, in most cases, completed projects at prices in the tens of millions as well as permit and inspection fees that offset the development review and inspection. From a revenue perspective, despite the initial exemption, the positive impact is significant immediately as well as in the long term. As for the tax burden, while there is a short-term potential shift to existing property taxpayers, these developments help increase the pool of taxpayers, spreading the long-term tax burden for the benefit all residents.
(The emphasis is ours.)↩