1. The city council got its first look at the revised budget forecast for 2018 yesterday afternoon, and the gist of the presentation can be summed up, more or less, in three graphs. The first shows the rate at which the city’s revenues are projected to grow. In order to just keep city services at current levels, revenues—money coming in from fees and taxes—have to grow at a rate somewhat above inflation, or between 3 and 4 percent. When that doesn’t happen, the city has to make budget cuts.
Although the budget office currently projects growth to exceed inflation (represented by the jagged line on the chart above) for at least the next few years, the city actually needs to see revenue growth well above inflation to pay for all the additional obligations it has committed to, including programs that ongoing but are currently being paid for with one-time funding—or by dipping into the city’s general-fund balance, a cash reserve that grows whenever revenues come in higher than expected. In 2016, the year-end fund balance exceeded $60 million—but since then, the city has been spending far more than it has been taking in, draining the fund to the point that by next year, if nothing changes, the balance will be more than $28 million in the red.
The next chart uses numbers to demonstrate the same problem, and adds an additional ongoing wrinkle: The city anticipates spending about $10 million a year, far more than previously anticipated, paying for “unbudgeted” judgments and claims against the city. By 2020, according to the budget office, the city could face a shortfall of up to $53 million. “We are in a pattern where we are spending down our fund balance,” budget director Ben Noble told the council. “In 2019, given the revenues that we’re forecasting, we would use up all of our remaining fund balance and then some and dip into the red. We can’t do that. We can’t run a deficit.”
On top of that, budget officials told the council Monday, the city needs to figure out how to pay for homelessness programs that were kick-started with onetime funding, a planned safe consumption site, and a long-awaited new accounting system, among other promised programs. “We are supporting some ongoing activities with onetime revenue sources, and what this is saying is that you can’t keep doing that on an ongoing basis,” Noble said. “Our forecast indicates that … the higher growth that we’ve been seeing of late is not going to continue.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked every city department to come up with a budget that reflects cuts of 2 to 5 percent. In a statement Durkan said, “[w]ith a series of one-time spending decisions that carry over into the upcoming years, the City must emphasize its priorities and evaluate sensible cost saving measures.”
2. Former King County Democrats chair Bailey Stober, who just lost his job as communications director for the King County Assessor’s office after an investigation concluded that he “engaged in conduct that was outside the bounds of an appropriate employer-employee relationship” in his position as party chair, told the Seattle Times‘ Jim Brunner yesterday that he will run for the state house seat currently held by Republican Mark Hargrove as an “independent Democrat.” Stober told Brunner that he has the backing of Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and Kent Mayor Dana Ralph, and claimed to have “made lifelong friends and lifelong enemies” because he has “been involved in politics for more than a decade.” Stober, who previously claimed he has been “in Party leadership” for 11 years, is 26.
Stober’s announcement came just two days before another candidate, Debra Entenman, was expected to announce her candidacy for the same position. Entenman is currently the field director for US Congressman Adam Smith, and has reportedly drummed up significant early support from local Democrats. The race to defeat Hargrove, a conservative Republican in a relatively moderate South King County district, will reportedly be on the agenda at Wednesday night’s meeting of the 47th District Democrats; both Stober and Entenman are expected to attend.
In the course of looking into the rumor that Stober planned to run on Sunday and Monday, I called around to more than a dozen people who have worked with Stober, including many who consider him a friend, and I heard the same story again and again: Everyone close to Stober was urging him not to run, arguing that he needed to disappear from the public eye for at least a few months and express some semblance of contrition before asking for voters’ support and trust. (Stober did not respond to my request for comment Monday morning). “The worst thing that can happen [with a scandal like the one in which Stober has been implicated] is that you’re a pariah, where you don’t have the change to rehabilitate yourself—an Anthony Weiner type,” one Democrat who called Stober “a really nice guy” who “means well” told me. “He’s delusional if he thinks that Auburn [which is in the 47th District] doesn’t know what’s going on in Seattle.”
3. An eagle-eyed reader pointed out that the copy of the report the King County Assessor commissioned as part of its investigation into Stober’s behavior—a report that cost county taxpayers more than $25,000—was missing two pages. This was the result of an oversight by the assessor’s office (the Seattle Times’ copy had the same omission), which provided the missing pages promptly when I asked for them yesterday. The full report can now be found here, but here’s a taste of what was missing from the original version I posted:
Two undated comments that Mr. Stober made within the “Dream Team” Facebook conversation about other members of the KCD are concerning. See Exhibit 6 and Exhibit 7. In these posts, Mr. Stober first commented about a former state party committeeman and said: “I’ll see if I can print off one more certificate to recognize [Redacted] as party rapist of the year so everyone feels better.” Mr. Stober also commented about a former member of the KCD leadership team and said: “Listen if you all want to clean up the bad blood send [Redacted] a chocolate covered dildo and tell him to get fucked.” Mr. Stober and another witness who participated in the “Dream Team” Facebook conversation provided an overview of events within the Washington Democratic party that they said provide context for these comments. Nevertheless, we find Mr. Stober’s choice of words to be wholly inappropriate.
One witness showed us, but declined to share, cell phone video clips of Mr. Stober apparently intoxicated at KCD-related events. Other witnesses reported (i) personally feeling pressure from Mr. Stober to drink and/or (ii) personally observing Mr. Stober pressure others to drink. These accounts lend support to Ms. Koss Vallejo’s claim that Mr. Stober also pressured her to drink. Moreover, prior to the Code of Conduct complaint, a number of witnesses either observed or heard from Ms. Koss Vallejo that she felt she had to (and did) drink socially with Mr. Stober in connection with her role as KCD Executive Director. Finally, we note that at least one individual who declined to be interviewed reportedly reached out to Mr. Stober about seeking professional help regarding his consumption of alcohol.
Read the whole 29-page report here.
4. Secretary of State Kim Wyman showed up at the King County Council yesterday to testify against legislation, sponsored by council member Dave Upthegrove and supported by the council’s six Democrats, that would provide postage-paid ballots to every King County voter in this year’s primary and general elections. The measure, which would cost the county up to $381,000, is aimed at increasing voter turnout in King County; a February 2017 trial run in two King County jurisdictions, Shoreline and Maple Valley, found that prepaid ballots increased the percentage of ballots returned by mail from 43 percent (in the 2016 general election) to 74 percent during the pilot.
Speaking against the legislation, Wyman, a Republican, said that any prepaid ballot program should be implemented statewide, not on a county-by-county basis. “This decision should not be made in a vacuum because the impacts [don’t happen] in a vacuum,” Wyman said. In response, county council member Claudia Balducci tweeted: “I really don’t understand SOS Wyman’s objections. Each County puts out & collects their own ballots for federal, state & local elections. How could KC paying postage confuse voters or impact other Counties in any way? It didn’t affect us when Pierce Co did this a few years ago.”
Wyman, a Republican, won’t be up for reelection until 2020, but it’s worth noting that increased voter turnout in King County means increased Democratic turnout in all statewide races and in legislative districts that include parts of King County. Democrats hoping to turn the Eastside blue in 2018 would only benefit from measures that make it easy for King County voters to cast their ballots.
If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.