King County could be one of the nation’s first metropolitan areas to adopt a wide-reaching plan to curb public health problems through services for pregnant women, infants and children, if voters approve a new property tax this fall.

Share story

King County could be one of the nation’s first metropolitan areas to adopt a wide-reaching plan to curb public-health problems through services for pregnant women, infants and children.

Voters in November will decide on a proposal to raise property taxes to boost aid for early intervention programs, following the Metropolitan King County Council’s vote of approval on Wednesday.

“If you want the best outcomes for adults, you invest in kids very early,” Council Chair Larry Phillips said. “We’ve seen too many examples where that’s not the case, and we end up with difficult young adults, and oftentimes, incarcerated adults.”

County leaders are lauding the plan’s first-of-its-kind funding model that covers a broad span of health services — from prenatal care to homelessness prevention — and its intent to combat problems such as substance abuse and obesity in young children before they escalate.

“This is when the brain develops,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, who introduced the idea in April. “If you miss that window, you miss the chance to positively or negatively (impact) that child’s brain.”

For months, council members have debated how to spend the approximately $392 million in revenue the six-year levy would generate. If approved by voters, it would cost 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The council introduced more than a dozen amendments over the course of the week, ranging from removing the levy’s power to increase until 2021 to adding what types of agencies can receive funding, such as programs that help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Although those and the majority of the amendments failed, they reflect concern for how to implement the comprehensive plan, called Best Starts for Kids. All council members except Reagan Dunn voted in favor of the proposal.

In its final version, Best Starts for Kids is broken into four main spending categories: 50 percent is set aside for services that help pregnant women and children under age 5, 35 percent for school-based and other programs that help people 24-and-younger, 9 percent for community-level intervention and 4 percent for administrative costs.

County leaders will determine detailed allocations if the measure passes the election.

“(There) are massive challenges around crime, incarceration, mental illness and addiction … that take up most of the county’s budget,” Constantine said. “We have a chance to move far upstream to the source of these problems with prevention.”