ON Monday, the Seattle City Council is expected to send to the November ballot an innovative experiment with universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten education. Mayor Ed Murray calls it the “most important policy” for his term. The plan holds promise to reduce the achievement gap and give Seattle’s tiniest citizens a boost toward academic success.
Yet, even before it hits the ballot, it faces a significant problem. A dueling measure, Initiative 107, could effectively kill this noble pre-K plan. I-107 carries a breathtakingly expensive, unfunded mandate while apparently ensuring a lucrative stream of public money to the very union that is helping fund it.
Because of city election law, the Seattle City Council has little choice but to send I-107 to the ballot, to appear alongside its own universal pre-K plan.
The City Council should denounce I-107 in unequivocal terms so that voters in November would see through the initiative’s sugarcoated language for what it is: a devious piece of self-dealing by SEIU Local 925, which represents in-home child-care workers.
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I-107 has four particularly troubling elements.
• It requires Seattle to adopt a policy that caps child-care costs for Seattle families — regardless of income level — at 10 percent of a family’s gross income, and creates a plan to make it so. The definition of child care in I-107 is so broad it might include programs for high-school children.
This carries a whopping price tag. A fiscal analysis by city staff estimates the potential cost at $107 million the first year, and more than $80 million in each additional year. I-107 offers no way to pay for this.
Yet, the initiative also ensures that if Seattle fails to live up to this utopian ideal, families could sue. A confidential legal analysis by the Pacifica Law Group, working under contract with the Seattle city attorney, suggests this provision could result in serious potential liability for the city.
• I-107 also requires Seattle to hire an unnamed entity to communicate with Seattle early childhood instructors about new workforce development standards. The definition of this is written so specifically it appears only one entity meets it: SEIU Local 925, which has spent $132,550 getting to the ballot (The American Federation of Teachers has put in a similar amount). In short, the SEIU-funded initiative could require the City of Seattle to pay SEIU to unionize local child-care centers.
• A provision in the Seattle City Charter appears to rule out the possibility that both I-107 and the universal pre-K plan could be enacted. City Charter Article IV, Section 1. G says if voters approve two measures on the same topic, the one with the higher vote total trumps, and the other is rejected, according to the legal analysis, a copy of which was obtained by The Seattle Times.
• Finally, it undermines the carefully negotiated $15 minimum-wage law by mandating an immediate $15 wage for child-care workers in large centers, instead of a three-year phase-in. Carving out one sector — child-care workers — from the $15 wage law undermines the certainty businesses need to adjust to the unprecedented law.
Voters should be smart enough to see through the ruse of I-107, but there is good reason that Murray, City Council President Tim Burgess and other supporters are sweating. The city plan requires approval of a four-year, $14.5 million-a-year property-tax levy. I-107 has no funding source, yet carries a huge, hidden cost that will come due.
On Monday, the Seattle City Council has a chance to clear the air and lead the city to a bold program that would help to change the lives of a generation. Reject I-107 in unequivocal terms, and tell the unions that back it that Seattle won’t acquiesce to their attempt to hijack early childhood education.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).