As readers of this column have delighted in reminding me, there was another potent force hard at work in our recent tax-slashing election: Seattle scorn.
“Quit whining, Seattleite. The rest of us are sick and tired of funding such a small section of the state,” read one typical postelection email.
“Go ahead and secede – at least then places like Walla Walla won’t have to keep funding your mistakes,” read another.
“Pay for your friggin projects yourself,” summed up another, from Pierce County.
After reading a couple hundred of these, I think I understand. One: Seattle is super annoying. Two: It’s well past time we city liberals stop wailing for handouts and take care of ourselves.
So it was perfect timing this week when a new report crossed my desk that is almost certain to annoy the rest of the state even more!
Sent out by state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, it’s a fresh analysis, from the state Office of Financial Management (OFM), of how government revenues and expenditures are shared among Washington’s 39 counties.
Which counties get more in state spending than they pay in taxes? And which are net “donors” of tax money to the entire state system (which means schools, colleges, prisons, welfare payments and other state government functions).
Punch line: The entire state is mooching off King County, not the other way around.
It turns out King County taxpayers exported a record $2.95 billion to prop up the state’s other counties in 2016, the most recent year studied, according to OFM. About 37 cents of every dollar of state taxes paid by King County taxpayers was spent elsewhere.
Where did the money go? Ironically the ever-aggrieved Pierce County is the No. 1 recipient, getting $508 million more than it gave in state taxes. Second is Yakima County, with a net gain of $395 million, then Clark County at plus $375 million and Spokane County, which got $350 million more in resources than it gave.
Small eastern Washington counties top the list if it’s scored by a ratio of help received to taxes paid. Okanogan County got back $2.07 in spending for every $1 it sent to Olympia in taxes. No. 2 is Stevens County at an even $2 coming in for $1 out, and No. 3 is Adams County, at $1.98 in for every $1 out.
In all there are 33 counties that pay less than they get, and supposed leech King County provides 97% of the money boosting those counties.
The figures show King’s taxpayers sent the state $8.04 billion and got back just $5.09 billion in spending. Per capita, King paid $3,820 in taxes in return for just $2,419 in spending — or a net donation annually of $1,401 by each and every King County resident to the good people of the rest of the state.
Who are totally hacked off anyway. So much so they voted to slash transit and bus projects in Seattle in part out of sheer animus.
Carlyle, who sits on the state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, says that as a liberal he’s normally fine with the imbalance, as richer counties should support the poorer ones. But now the “longstanding political compact” between west and east, urban and rural is fraying.
“Why send all this money to 33 counties if they’re going to turn around and strip us of our ability to pay for our own projects?” Carlyle said Tuesday.
He cited specifically the state Republican Party’s endorsement of Initiative 976, that will cut money for the Seattle area’s voter-approved transit projects.
“If they’re going to make an aggressive move like that to stop local control — to go after transit projects that only we’re paying for — then I have no choice but to look at the state budget with fresh eyes and ask: Why are we exporting billions of dollars around the state?
“Maybe we need to throw some elbows and claw some of that money back.”
That’s the case I made in a “State of King” column recently. At some point the political system should just give red-county voters what they keep insisting they want, which is less government. Start by cutting Pierce County out of the light-rail project.
When I pointed out to one reader that Seattle subsidizes the rest of the state, not vice versa, he countered bluntly: “The rest of the state doesn’t care.”
“The important takeaway here is not so much accuracy of facts but the perception of Seattle by the rest of us outside the city limits,” he wrote. “It’s about making sure Seattle feels the pain the rest of us have felt for decades.”
Message received. Hey, uh, Seattle-area legislators: It sure sounds like they’re going to hate us no matter what. So might as well start bringing those billions back home?