Budget cuts are unavoidable after state’s failure to fix broken county tax system
In recent days you may have seen news reports that the state legislature failed to take legislative action to address the state’s arbitrary and outdated one percent limit on property tax collections, which is the largest source of revenue for the County’s General Fund.
For many years I, along with Councilmembers and other county leaders and employees, have advocated for a change to the one percent cap. Since its introduction in 2001, King County’s population has grown 30% and consumer prices have increased 70%. Inflation in recent years has been as high as 9.5%. Yet, despite our best efforts and substantial support in Olympia, the legislature refused to take action.
This means that the 2025-2026 General Fund is facing a $100 million revenue shortfall. In the absence of additional revenue, we will not be able to maintain all of our existing services and programs, and budget cuts will be necessary. The only way to make cuts as small as possible is to start as soon as possible.
I want to be very clear: There are no plans for immediate position reductions in any King County department. The first round of program reductions will be part of the second omnibus supplemental appropriations ordinance that I plan to transmit to the County Council in September. This will provide time to phase in reductions starting in 2024, allowing programs to gradually be reduced and helping staff transition to other jobs.
Our options for making cuts are limited because most of the General Fund goes to programs mandated at the state or federal level, like jails, courts, prosecution, and public defense. Many general government functions – such as elections, property assessments, human resources, the Executive department, and County Council agencies – are functions that cannot be eliminated but will face budget reductions. The remainder of the programs – discretionary programs not mandated by state or federal law – will take a disproportionate share of the cuts, despite many of these programs being vital and highly valued by our residents.
To help inform our decision making, we launched a community survey asking for public input on which discretionary programs should be prioritized. As an employee and/or resident of King County, please take a few minutes to complete the survey and share your feedback. We will also work closely with labor partners and follow our collective bargaining agreements when considering reductions, guided by our True North and values.
I know these cuts will be difficult and will mean job losses for some of our colleagues, something I will work to minimize. We are not instituting a countywide hiring freeze, although some departments may choose to leave some vacant positions unfilled. Nor are we asking you to do more with less; with the size of the budget deficit that simply isn’t possible. More importantly, your welfare and mental and physical well-being remain paramount. We will continue to support you in your employee experience here at King County.
I want to remind you that King County offers several services to assist with stress, career support, and other support services. If you need to speak with someone, King County provides two services to employees that offer professional support and advice: the Employee Assistance Program and Making Life Easier (username: King County). Both resources are free and confidential. Our Career Support Services program provides a variety of career and job search tips, tools, training, resources and one-on-one assistance to support King County employees with managing their career and obtaining new employment.
Thank you for everything you do and bring to King County. Through your work, we strive for our True North: “Making King County a welcoming community where every person can thrive”, each and every day. Let’s do our best to support one another, lead with our values, and give each other grace as we navigate this difficult time.
Dow Constantine (he/him/his)
King County Executive