Rebuttal to the "Explanatory Statement" in the Voter’s Guide
The Quick Answer
If you think the “Explanatory Statement” about Proposition 1 in the Voter’s Guide might be corporate marketing-speak, you might be right!
The “Explanatory Statement” in the Voter’s Guide begins:
In 2016, Shoreline voters approved a six-year maintenance and operations levy for basic public safety, parks and recreation, and community services. That levy will expire on December 31, 2022. The proposed maintenance and operations levy would replace the expiring levy.
This makes it sound as if funding for public safety and all those other good things will be cut if Proposition 1 does not pass. The City's proposed budget for the next biennium makes it clear that that is simply not true — at least for two years covered by the budget.
In 2016, Shoreline voters approved a “Six-year Permanent Levy Lid Lift”. This allowed the City to raise the City's general levy by 12.8% in 2017 and then at the rate of inflation for the following five years (2018-2022). Between 2016 and 2022, the general levy increased by 39% (significantly above the rate of inflation: the Seattle-area CPI-U increased by 27% over that period.) All of that increase is permanent.
To state that Proposition 1 “replaces the expiring levy” is very misleading. The tax increases allowed by the previous Levy Lid Lifts do not expire. If Proposition 1 is not passed, the City’s revenue from the general tax levy will not drop — in fact, it will continue to increase.
Proposition 1 would add another 48% permanent increase to the general levy in 2023. This would be in addition to the 39% increase that has been allowed by the 2016 Levy Lid Lift — there is no “replacing” going on here.
State law limits the amount that the City can increase its regular tax levy — the total amount it collects in property tax for its General Fund — from year to year. Without explicit voter approval for a higher rate, the City may only increase the total levy by 1% each year. Over the long term, growth in revenue of only 1% per year is likely to be insufficient to cover increases in costs for desired services. For that reason, voters have approved two Levy Lid Lift measures that have allowed the City's tax revenue to increase at rates that have more than compensated for the effects of inflation for the past 12 years.
The 2010 Levy Lid Lift increased the 2011 general levy by 30% over 2010, followed by five more years where the levy was allowed to increase at the rate of inflation. (Note that this was passed after several years where levy increases were capped at the default limit factor of 101%, so the large 30% initial bump was somewhat justified by the need to “catch up” with cost increases over the preceding years.)
The 2016 Levy Lid Lift increased the 2017 general levy by 12.8% over 2016, again, followed by five more years of increases at the rate of inflation.
Over those 12 years, the general levy has doubled, from $7.6 million in 2010 to $15.2 million in 2022. Over that same period, the Seattle-area CPI-U (Consumer Price Index - the preferred measure of inflation) has increased by 44%. Over the past twelve years, the general tax levy has increased, on average, at roughly twice the rate of inflation.
None of those tax increases “expire”. The only thing that is “expiring” is the ability to continue to increase taxes at the rate of inflation. Without a Lid Lift measure in place, the 2023 general tax levy will be limited to 101% of the 2022 levy.
We — Shoreline Citizens for a Fair Levy — have no beef about allowing the levy to rise with inflation, however, we do take objection to the initial >48%, more than $7 million per year permanent levy increase that is written into Proposition 1. This is 39% above the (already high) rate of inflation!
The City's budget for the 2021-2022 biennium is turning out to be $21 million rosier for the general fund than was initially predicted1. (The City had forecast a $13 million shortfall, but is now expecting an $8 million surplus over that period.)
The City's proposed budget for the next biennium (2023-2024) demonstrates that it has the funding necessary to increase support for the RADAR and other programs without cuts to other services. The City has provided very little specific information on what its plans are for the extra $7 million per year that Proposition 1 will take in.
If Proposition 1 is defeated, the City will be able to come back to the voters next year with another Lid Lift measure — hopefully, one with a more modest initial tax increase.
On the Implicit Threats of Service Cuts
The Explanatory Statement continues:
Replacing the levy would maintain current levels of police and community safety services, including neighborhood safety patrols; traffic enforcement in school zones and neighborhoods; and community crime prevention programs. It would also enhance the RADAR Program by adding mental health professional teams to provide 24/7 response with police to community members in behavioral health crisis. Proposition 1 would also preserve safe, well-maintained, and accessible parks and trails; playgrounds and play equipment that meet safety standards; playfields and restrooms2; and preserve recreation programs for youth, adults, families, and seniors. Proposition 1 would continue funding for community services for seniors, youth, and individuals and families in need, including homelessness response services. The levy would also sustain the City’s code enforcement and customer response programs.
The implication that there would be cuts to these important services if Proposition 1 fails is just fear-mongering.
The City just released the first draft of its proposed budget for the next biennium (2023-2024). The budget assumes that Proposition 1 does not pass. Still, it includes funding for the RADAR 24/7 Mobile Crisis Response Team, as well as staffing increases in various other City departments. The budget does not appear to call for any significant cuts to existing services. Importantly, the proposed budget is, essentially, balanced3, even without the passage of Proposition 1.
The City has the funding for and the intention of doing these things — at least for the next couple of years — with or without the passage of Proposition 1.
By the City's own estimates, the passage of Proposition 1 would generate a revenue surplus in each of the next five years (followed by a balanced budget in the sixth year.) Surpluses in the first few years of the period would be quite large.
At the October 10 City Council meeting, during the staff presentation on the proposed budget for 2023-2024, the City Manager mentioned a list of “budget amendments” she would recommend should Proposition 1 pass. These were:
- Hire another IT person for City Hall.
- Hire more staff in the HR department.
- A mention that maintaining the after-school “Hang Time” program may require additional funding at some point 2 to 4 years from now.
- And, finally: “And, obviously, all the needs we have in our capital program4.”
There was no other mention of any increased funding for “basic public safety, parks and recreation, and community services”5.
Let’s be clear: The permanent >48%, >$7 million per year tax increase proposed by Proposition 1 goes to the City's general levy, to be spent in whatever way the City decides. The City has not said in any precise way what its plans are for the bulk of that extra money.
See staff report on Item 9(a) Financial Report and Pre-View of 2023 Budget, page 5 from the September 19 City Council Meeting.↩
Note that the voters just passed a new Park Bond measure (which, confusingly, was also called “Proposition 1”) specifically to fund improvements and acquisition of City parks. The costs of that will be adding a new levy property taxes beginning in 2023.↩
The City predicts a shortfall of $358,000 over the two years of the 2023-2024 proposed budget. That is a small fraction of a percent of the total $118 million budget that it is “in the noise” (statistically indistinguishable from zero.) Note also that the City’s general fund balance (“what's in the bank”) is around $35 million.
In any case, it is hard to see how a predicted shortfall of less than $200 thousand per year justifies a more than $7 million per year permanent tax increase.↩
As for which capital programs have needs, the accompanying slide called out “sidewalk, transportation, and park priorities”. Note that each of those capital programs gets funding from its own set of taxes (most of which we have recently voted for).
- A Parks Bond measure was passed in February 2022 to fund park improvements and acquisitions.
- We pay $40 of our annual car registration fees to the City. $20 of that is slated for sidewalk improvements and $20 for roads. See the City's page on the City's Transportation Benefit District for more on that.
- In November 2018 we passed a ballot measure adding 0.2% to our sales tax for sidewalk improvements.
You can watch recorded video of the City’s presentation on the proposed budget for the 2023-2024 biennium at the October 10 City Council meeting. See the City’s Council meeting page for a link to the video. The City Manager’s comments on potential budget additions should Proposition 1 pass start at around starts at around 26:50.↩