The official primary and special Aug. 3 election ballot has arrived in islanders’ mailboxes, and the good news is that it only contains two checkboxes. Not too much to mull over, right? Uh, actually, there is.
The first ballot choice is the contest for King County Executive, which includes a bid by Vashon’s own state senator in the 34th Legislative District, Joe Nguyen, who is trying to unseat incumbent Dow Constantine. It’s worth noting that Constantine also once represented the 34th.
Nguyen’s platform is built on social justice issues that are well known to him personally — he grew up as the son of impoverished refugees living in White Center. He is a passionate advocate for what is surely needed in King County and throughout the nation: sweeping change in the ways our government addresses homelessness, poverty, climate change, housing affordability, gun violence, police reform and other big issues.
It is good to see a young and talented challenger rise from the left to challenge Constantine, holding him accountable to more quickly meet the progressive goals he has always espoused.
But this doesn’t seem like Nguyen’s year, as his fundraising and the buzz around his campaign have proved to be more lackluster than expected. Constantine has also garnered meaningful endorsements from Nguyen’s own colleagues, 34th District Reps. Eileen Cody and Joe Fitzgibbon — public servants islanders have come to trust.
This race seems like a foregone conclusion before it begins, but we wish Nguyen the best in future contests. We need voices like his, and robust challenges to deeply entrenched and established politicians like Constantine.
A thornier question for some islanders is posed by the second item on the ballot.
King County Proposition 1, if passed, will continue and increase funding for an expansive county program called Best Starts for Kids (BSK) — increasing the BSK levy rate from about 11.5 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation this year to 19 cents next year.
Funding from this initiative has already resulted in direct benefits for Vashon youth.
Without BSK, the clinic operated by Neighborcare Health at Vashon High School that serves children and youth would not exist. A BSK grant paid for the clinic’s start-up expenses, and BSK money pays for its operation.
Throughout the pandemic, this clinic provided desperately needed mental and physical health assists for island youth and families at a time when they needed them most. And the clinic will continue to greatly benefit our community — but only if it receives the funding it needs.
BSK has also assisted other agencies and organizations woven into Vashon’s social service safety net, including Vashon Youth & Family Services, Comunidad Latina de Vashon and Vashon’s DOVE Project. At the School District, the program has also funded crucial behavioral health and intervention programs.
It seems a no-brainer to vote yes to continue to reap the benefits of this remarkable program.
But it is also understandable that islanders might be skittish about any property tax measure these days, after assessed property values spiked alarmingly this year. Our community has also grappled, in the past year, with decisions made by our Health Care and Fire District commissioners that involved our system’s dreaded $5.90 “levy lid.”
To recap as concisely as possible: our state’s tax law is structured in a way that forces the island’s tax districts into a system where, together, their levies cannot exceed a cap of $5.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. Once that cap is breached, tax revenue for various Vashon districts can be reduced.
On the island, this meant that Vashon Parks would have lost funding to pro-rationing this year, when higher levies than expected were approved by Vashon Health Care and Fire District commissioners. But thankfully, new legislation has now protected Parks from further harm, effective for tax years 2022 through 2026 — honoring the will of 80% of Vashon voters who approved Parks’ most recent levy.
Our Health Care District will also remain safe from any unintended impacts of BSK because it contains a provision that allows some junior taxing districts to be reimbursed by BSK funds if the levy causes the $5.90 rate to be exceeded and those districts are “pro-rationed” as a result.
In our view, concern about our local taxing districts should not be a factor in how islanders decide to vote on Proposition 1 — especially given the fact that when assessed values go up (as they most certainly have on Vashon this year) levy rates tend to go down. This means there is not much likelihood that the $5.90 rate will be exceeded on Vashon in 2022.
For these reasons, we encourage islanders to support Proposition 1, as it has proven to be an extremely worthy use of taxpayer money. We’ll more than recoup the tax paid with better health and brighter futures for island youth.