Metropolitan King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove has put the brakes on a proposed 0.1 percent county-sales-tax increase intended to boost arts, science and culture programs.

Share story

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s controversial sales-tax proposal for the arts hit a huge hurdle Tuesday when the Metropolitan County Council budget chairman refused to take the measure up for a vote in his committee.

Councilman Dave Upthegrove removed the proposed 0.1 percent county-sales-tax increase from the committee meeting’s agenda Wednesday.

He’s hoping to stop the plan from getting on the August ballot. In a statement Tuesday, he described his action as “effectively killing” a package funded by a regressive tax that burdens lower-income residents.

The proposal, championed by Constantine and called Access for All, would raise about $67 million annually. That money would go toward arts, culture and science programming, with more than 300 organizations getting funding.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Supporters of Access for All on Tuesday weren’t ready to give up.

“He’s one vote,” said King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles. “I do not consider this bill, this legislation, dead at all.”

She added, “There’s a great deal of support of it among many people in the community. We’ll see what happens.”

Jack Sorensen, a spokesman for Access for All, said he was “incredibly disappointed” by Upthegrove’s decision. About 20 families had planned to speak in favor of the proposal at the Wednesday meeting, Sorensen said.

Upthegrove’s move is the latest kink in a sprawling debate over whether and how to pay for the various crises and needs confronting the growing Puget Sound region.

Responding to hellish traffic woesand a lack of large-scale public transit, voters last year approved the massive Sound Transit 3 tax package.

Earlier this month, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray withdrew a short-lived plan for a $275 million property-tax levy to fight homelessness.

Murray instead said he wants to work with Constantine to replace it with a proposal that sounds a lot like the arts tax: a 0.1 percent county sales-tax increase.

On Tuesday, King County Deputy Executive Sung Yang defended the arts-and-science tax proposal — and its funding mechanism.

The sales tax, Yang said, “is the only tax authority that has been given to us” to use for something like this. Arts, science and culture programs have long been viewed as vital to making sure the region thrives, he said.

And Yang touted the part of the plan that sets aside money for King County students to get to art, science and heritage programs related to their studies, calling it a “transformative opportunity.”

But Upthegrove, in his statement, described Access for All as “the wrong proposal at the wrong time.”

“As currently configured, the funding is distributed in an unfair manner that hurts, rather than helps, our efforts to achieve equity,” Upthegrove said.

“The sales tax burdens working-class folks the most, yet the lowest income parts of our county continue to be neglected,” he added.

In order to get on the August ballot, Yang said, the council would normally have to act by May 1. With emergency action, council members could revive the proposal later than that, he added.

“You’ve seen how legislative bodies work,” Yang said. “Things are never over till they’re over.”