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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I-1033 would do great harm to basic public services in Yakima County. An analysis of historical revenue data from the Yakima County Auditor’s Office shows I-1033 would have cost the county nearly $45 million, had it been in place from 1996-2008. In particular, investments in public safety and criminal justice would likely have been significantly reduced, as 80 percent of the current operating budget in the county is dedicated to these essential services.

The graph below shows how I-1033 would have lead to progressively higher revenue losses each year from 1996 to 2008 in Yakima County. In 2008 alone, the county would have lost $5.9 million, or about 11 percent of the general fund budget.

To put this into context, $5.9 million in the 2008 Yakima County general fund budget would have been equivalent to:

  • Two-thirds of expenditures on the Sheriff’s Office ($8.3 million);

  • Eighty-four percent of the combined budgets for the District Court, the Superior Court, and the county clerk ($7.0 million);

  • More than the combined general fund expenditures on indigent defense, juvenile justice, and the Washington State University extension program ($5.0 million).

As a result of the ongoing national recession, revenue collections among local governments in Washington have fallen dramatically in the past year. In Yakima County, officials had to draw down reserve funds and eliminate more than 30 vacant positions in order to keep the 2009 budget in balance.

Revenue collections continue to decline in Yakima County, however. The county also faces rising costs and increased demand for services. For example, the county jail has experienced a recent influx of new inmates which drives up the cost of providing corrections services. Together, lower revenues and increased costs are resulting in a $3.3 million deficit going into the 2010 budget cycle in Yakima County. To fill this gap, county officials may have to lay off as many as 60 county government employees.*

It is important to note that 2009 would become the basis for all future budgets in Yakima County under I-1033. As a result, all of the cuts enacted this year and in 2010 will be locked into place, making it impossible to restore services even after the economy recovers.

Editor’s Note on Methodology: There has been much debate about which revenue sources would be subject to the population-growth-plus-inflation cap under I-1033. For this analysis, we assumed that general fund revenue -- including general fund tax revenues, revenues from permits and licenses, and revenues derived from charges for government services -- would have been subject to the I-1033 limit. It is important to note that expanding the scope of revenues subject to the I-1033 limit would substantially increase the estimates of annual revenue losses as well as expand the scope of county services negatively impacted under the initiative.

*David Lester, “Budget gap may force Yakima County to make 60 layoffs,” Yakima Herald-Republic, October 10, 2009.

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