1. This week, cities across King County will be voting on measures that could reduce the size of a proposed countywide sales tax for very low-income housing by millions. On Monday night, Renton, Tukwila, and Issaquah were among first few cities to decide whether they wanted to pass their own 0.1 percent sales tax, as authorized by the state legislature earlier this year, to pay for housing inside the city for people making up to 60 percent of the area median income. Renton’s council voted “yes” unanimously; Issaquah’s approved it on a 4-3 vote; and Tukwila’s rejected the proposal on a 5-2 vote.
I first reported on the proposals last week. Since then, items to supplant the countywide sales tax, which the King County Council will likely vote on next week, have appeared on city council agendas across, primarily South King County—from Maple Valley to Federal Way to Kent. Every city that opts out of the tax—that is, every city that opts to pass a local version of the tax, with proceeds the city can keep to itself—takes some money away from the potential size of the countywide proposal.
On Monday night, proponents of local taxes argued that suburban cities deserved local autonomy to decide what to build in their communities, and specifically cited an emergency shelter for chronically homeless people in Renton—a hotel that has been touted by advocates and service providers as a major success story because it has enabled people to stabilize and begin to deal with underlying conditions that contribute to their homelessness—as an example of what the county would impose on cities if they didn’t act first, and fast. “By passing this” local tax, Renton council member Valerie O’Halloran said, “we are retaining 100% of the say of how our money is spent within our community.”
Opponents of going it alone argued that the whole point of being part of a regional solution to homelessness was to think regionally, because homelessness doesn’t end at any single city’s borders. Tukwila council member De’Sean Quinn pointed out that the countywide proposal, which could raise up to $400 million to purchase existing buildings and convert them to supportive housing for chronically homeless people, is a big pot of money that allows the county bond for an even bigger pot of money; collecting smaller amounts on a local-only basis, he argued, would inevitably lead to slower and smaller developments.
The King County Council will vote on the countywide tax next week.
2. Speaking of the county council, rumor is that longtime Republican council member Pete von Reichbauer (who represents much of South King County) does not plan to run for reelection. Possible contenders for the position include former Democratic state representative Kristine Reeves, Federal Way city council member Lydia Assefa-Dawson, Auburn mayor Nancy Backus, and current Republican state rep Drew Stokesbary.
3. After a city council election year (2019) in which outside spending by political action committees (PACs) frequently dwarfed what candidates were able to raise on their own, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission is increasing the amount of money candidates for city council can raise, to $375,000 for candidates for at-large council positions 8 and 9 (currently held by Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González, who are both up for reelection next year) and to $187,500 for candidates running for districted seats 1-7.
The commission will discuss the new limits at its meeting Wednesday.
The change is unlikely to tamp down the influence of money in local politics, or stop council candidates from raising money beyond those limits. In recent years, council candidates have asked to be released from both contribution and spending limits on the grounds that their opponents, or PACs working to benefit their opponents, have outspent them, creating an uneven playing field. Council member Kshama Sawant (D-3), for example, raised more than half a million dollars for her reelection campaign last year.
The commission will leave the formal limits on mayoral and city attorney campaigns the same, at a total of $800,000 and $300,000, respectively. In 2017, candidate Jenny Durkan raised well over $1 million in her successful campaign for mayor.