Monday was the final day the measure could be approved with a simple majority in time for the August primary.
The Metropolitan King County Council Monday revived a sales-tax increase to expand access to the arts Monday, voting 7-2 to place the measure on the August primary ballot.
The 0.1 percent tax, or 1 penny per $10 spent, is expected to generate $67 million a year and would go toward arts, culture and science programs, with more than 300 organizations receiving money.
Monday was the final day the measure could be approved with a simple majority in time for the August primary. Late amendments that created funding and cultural centers for areas of the county outside of Seattle helped win passage of the bill.
Councilmembers Dave Upthegrove and Larry Gossett opposed the measure, questioning whether the arts are the highest priority in the region and whether the 34 best-funded organizations in the county, such as the Woodland Park Zoo and the Seattle Symphony, would get the most funding.
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“Why do the people who least need government money always get the most?” Gossett asked.
But the council majority said the final measure added arts access and equity throughout the county.
“This is about education and inspiration, about experiences for families and kids to have a life as rich and full and creative as they want it to be,” said Councilmember Claudia Balducci.
Over 100 arts supporters packed the council chambers and testified in favor of the measure.
“This kind of funding provides a lifeline” to community-based arts organizations, said Manuel Cawaling, executive director of Youth Theatre Northwest and a board member of Cultural Access Washington.
The measure failed to make it out of Upthegrove’s finance committee two weeks ago because of concerns about whether access to the arts was a top priority in a region facing a crisis in homelessness, mental-health issues, chronic cuts to the criminal-justice system and new taxes likely needed to adequately fund education in the state under the McCleary decision.
Councilmembers were also troubled by the bulk of the new sales-tax revenue going to major regional groups including the Zoo, the Symphony, and Pacific Science Center, while organizations outside of Seattle would get much less. The sales tax was also seen as regressive, hitting the poorest residents of the county hardest.
Several people Monday specifically objected to Woodland Park Zoo getting more public money because of its past treatment of elephants.
“We support organizations which are not controversial and which reflect the ethical values of its citizens,” said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.
But supporters of the tax measure changed the appropriation plan so that each council district, including rural ones, would receive a minimum of $1 million, which could go to support the creation of new arts organizations and to bring programs to the outlying areas.
The sales tax in King County is now at 10.1 percent, with the recent increase from the voter-approved Sound Transit 3 expansion.
County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray have also suggested asking voters in 2018 for another 0.1-percent, sales-tax increase to fight homelessness. In April, Murray abruptly withdrew a $275 million Seattle-only, property-tax initiative for housing, saying the problem needed a regional approach.
The arts funding would add in-class learning opportunities at schools across the county. It would also provide students with transportation and free tickets to expose them to more cultural programs. The money would also allow more organizations to offer free admission or membership to low-income families and seniors.
Two cities, Denver and St. Louis, have both enacted special taxes to support arts and culture, and both have proved popular with voters, being renewed several times.