Not many nearly $900 million tax proposals are as uncontroversial, as uncontested, as the Best Starts for Kids levy.
The King County property tax hike, which would raise an estimated $872 million over six years to fund child-care, after school programs, health centers in schools and other early-intervention programs, has no formal opposition.
There is no campaign to urge King County voters to reject the levy. No one is raising money or running ads against the levy. No one even bothered to write a statement for the county voters guide opposing the levy.
The levy, proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine, was approved unanimously by the Metropolitan King County Council. Its supporters have raised more than $500,000 from unions, businesses, influential philanthropies and wealthy individuals. It has the support of editorial boards, chambers of commerce and organized labor.
The levy is on the primary ballot as Proposition No. 1. Ballots must be postmarked or returned by Aug. 3.
Constantine called the levy, which aims to help kids stay in school and out of the criminal legal system, “the most extensive program of its kind in America.”
Since 2015, the levy has funded more than 400 programs, with the goal of improving the lives of kids, from birth through college. Funding has gone to prenatal and newborn home visits, homelessness prevention, mentoring, school-based counseling services and to after school and summer programs.
“What’s beautiful about Best Starts for Kids is that it can show up for a family in so many ways,” said Dr. Ben Danielson, former medical director at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. “From birth all the way into adulthood.”
County officials say it has served more than 500,000 kids and families, although it’s impossible to know if the same people – potentially served by multiple programs – were counted more than once.
The original levy allocated $17 million to measure its effectiveness, but its success has been largely defined by county officials, rather than publicly available reports, a Seattle Times investigation found.
If passed, the levy would represent a significant tax increase over the current Best Starts for Kids levy, which passed with 56% of the vote in 2015.
The rate of the proposed levy is 19 cents per $1,000 and represents a nearly 65% increase over the existing rate. The owner of a home assessed at $600,000 would pay $114 per year for the new levy.
When it was passed in 2015, the levy carried a property tax rate of 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. But, as property values have increased, the rate has dropped. This year, it’s about 11.5 cents per $1,000, although supporters of the levy still cite the 14 cents figure in campaign literature, which has the effect of making the proposed increase look smaller than it is.
The new levy would use the funding increase to boost access to child care, aiming to provide care for about 3,000 kids per year through subsidies for families and wage boosts for child care workers.
The new levy, like the original, lays out priorities largely by age, with nearly 39% of funding dedicated to serving kids up to age 5, and nearly 29% for youths between ages 5 and 24. About 23% of funding would be for child care and homelessness prevention, with the remainder for community organizations and program evaluation.
Supporters of the levy have raised more than $522,000 to boost its passage. Big donations have come from unions (the Service Employees International Union and a subsidiary gave $120,000, the Washington Education Association gave $35,000), from businesses (Microsoft and Amazon gave $25,000 each) from nonprofits ($100,000 from Group Health Foundation, $40,000 from the Seattle Foundation) and from wealthy individuals ($100,000 from Lisa Mennett, a psychotherapist, $50,000 from Steve and Connie Ballmer and $25,000 from Mariners owner John Stanton).
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