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Friday, October 9, 2009

I-1033 would be a disaster for Snohomish County, requiring deep cuts in essential public services. If it had been put in place in 1996, the initiative would have led to severe revenue shortages in each subsequent year. In total, Snohomish County would have lost about $245 million in general fund revenues between 1996 and 2008 under the initiative (see graph below).

In 2008 alone, Snohomish County would have lost about $33.5 million -- 16 percent of the general fund budget. By way of illustration, $33.5 million in the Snohomish County general fund budget would have been equivalent to:

  • Seventy-three percent of the general fund spending for the Sheriff’s Office ($46.1 million);

  • More than the combined general fund budgets for the District Court and the Superior Court ($31.6 million);

  • Ninety-one percent of spending on the Department of Corrections ($37 million);

  • Three times the general fund budget for the Parks and Recreation Department ($10 million);

  • Twice the amount of general fund spending on the Prosecuting Attorney ($15.2 million).

In total, 70 percent of the general fund budget in Snohomish County was devoted funding for the law and justice services in 2008. Deep cuts in these services and others would have been unavoidable under I-1033.

More troubling, I-1033 would be implemented during the deepest recession of the post-World War II era. Under the initiative, 2009 would become the base for all future budgets in Snohomish County. The current recession has already taken a heavy toll on the current county budget. Last year, in crafting the 2009 budget, Snohomish County lawmakers faced a budget deficit totaling $21 million. To fill this gap, Snohomish County lawmakers implemented a hiring freeze and eliminated dozens of vacant county government positions.

In early 2009 the economy worsened, forcing the county to close an additional $6.7 million shortfall in April. To fill this gap, the county extended the hiring freeze and instituted a series of 11 unpaid furlough days, amounting to a four percent pay cut for affected county government workers. Yet, the budget situation in Snohomish County remains grim. To balance the next year’s 2010 budget, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon recently proposed increasing the number of furlough days to as many as 15, and decreasing pay for jail workers and Sheriff’s deputies.

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.

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