King County’s bid to double its ambitious and sprawling tax measure for youth, Best Starts for Kids, held a strong lead in primary election returns.
Tuesday night’s vote count showed 59% of voters agreeing to renew the levy, which would collect around $872 million over six years to be spent on a range of child care, youth criminal justice and early childhood programs.
If the renewal passes, it would cost about $114 a year for the median-priced home countywide, or $45 more than this year — and would pay for additional services such as child care subsidies to an estimated 3,000 low-income families and a pilot program increasing wages for child care workers. To pass, the initiative needs more than 50% approval in final primary results.
The original levy, passed in 2015 and expiring on Dec. 31 of this year, was an idea first conceived by King County Executive Dow Constantine to serve youth from cradle to college. He has touted the levy’s successes this year in his campaign for a third term.
Constantine said the Tuesday lead was “a validation of the good work we’ve been doing” to “create more equitable opportunities.”
“I know the word equitable gets tossed around a lot these days, but really making sure that every child born in this county can grow up happy and healthy and ready to take on the world is a critical commitment,” he said.
When voters first approved the measure, officials weren’t sure how they were going to spend the funds. Over the past six years, the $400 million measure has mostly been spent in the form of grants to hundreds of nonprofits that provide prenatal care, school-based health centers, and after-school and summer programs. One program to prevent youth and family homelessness says it has served more than 10,000 people and 90% have remained housed.
“The proof of all this really is going to come when children being born now arrive at a successful and healthy adulthood,” Constantine said in June.
A Seattle Times analysis last month found the county has only shared the successes under the initiative — despite dedicating $17 million to evaluating levy programs and promising voters information on “achievements and failures.”
The messier, private side of BSK, detailed in county audits and complaints obtained by The Times, included allegations of misusing funds and overstating how many people were served.
Two county agencies each found nearly 30 BSK-funded organizations that failed to meet at least one contract requirement — some had multiple and repeated failures — and in rare cases terminated their funding.
The Times story found it is unclear whether the county’s claim the levy served 500,000 people is accurate. It was calculated with aggregated and anonymized data, making it impossible to know if the same people were counted multiple times.
A few days before the story published, a King County spokesperson said the county “will work to make more data public that links funding to program goals.”
Tax measures to benefit school operations and kids have generally performed well in both King County and Seattle city elections. There was no formal opposition to renewing Best Starts.
The campaign raised more than $500,000 to campaign for passage of the measure, with the largest donations coming from unions, businesses such as Microsoft and Amazon, and wealthy residents including Steve and Connie Ballmer.
Voter approval on Tuesday was six percentage points higher than the initial returns for the levy in November 2015, when approval hovered around 53%. Final returns showed the levy passing at 56%.
Seattle Times staff reporter David Gutman contributed to this story.