King County executive delivers state of the county address

Bryce Kasota had to duck out early from King County Executive Dow Constantine’s state of the county address on Monday.

King County Executive Dow Constantine

Bryce Kasota had to duck out early from King County Executive Dow Constantine’s state of the county address on Monday.

It was to take an exam at Seattle Central College so she could continue her streak of a 3.9 GPA and earn her associate degree in nursing.

But Kasota wasn’t always in the position to succeed.

“As a single mother before she finished high school, Bryce faced an uncertain future,” Constantine told a room full of nearly 200 people at the Federal Way Community Center. “She credits a Public Health employee from the Nurse-Family Partnership with helping her escape an abusive relationship, and helping her become the supportive mother her daughter needs.”

Constantine said it’s early actions such as this that sets the tone for lifelong success.

Which is why Constantine, along with the King County Council, is proposing a six-year levy called Best Starts for Kids, to be on this November’s general election ballot.

Best Starts for Kids will raise $58 million in the first year, if passed, and will cost the average homeowner in King County “about a dollar a week.”

The levy lid increase of 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value adds about $56 a year in taxes.

“The failure to invest early leads to much costlier crisis interventions later — costlier for the individual, for society and for the county budget,” Constantine said. “And, of course, jail is the costliest and least effective crisis intervention of all.”

Despite King County’s 80,000 added jobs over the past two years, a low 4.5 percent unemployment rate and a median household income of $69,000, Constantine spoke of the “accelerating crisis of income inequality that threatens to undermine our economic future by undermining our middle class.”

Since 2000, the executive said King County has seen a net increase of 85,000 households but less than 4 percent of these are middle-income. The rest are split between $125,000 annual income and those earning less than $35,000.

“And as King County has grown less equal, the racial and geographic distribution of poverty has grown less equal as well,” he said. “Over the past 15 years, more than 80 percent of the growth in poverty has come in the suburbs outside of Seattle. Throughout the county, formerly middle-income neighborhoods are becoming either richer or poorer.”

What was once a distribution of 90 percent of American’s enjoying 70 percent of all income growth in the 1950-1970s, is now the top 1 percent of Americans receiving 175 percent of all income growth from 2009-2012, he said.

“This mocks the fundamental principle on which we were all raised: That if we work hard, we can all succeed,” Constantine said. “It’s unfair. It is un-American. And it is economically unsustainable.”

A diverse workforce brings innovation and economic success because as more people approach a problem with different perspectives, the faster and more efficiently that problem is solved, he said.

“If we want to prosper in an economy fueled by innovation, then we must give all of our children — regardless of circumstance — the education and the opportunity to bring their own unique talents to bear to solve the enormous problems that lie ahead: Ending hunger. Curing disease. Confronting climate change,” he said.

However, creating alternatives to juvenile detention by cutting the number of children detained from 205 to 45, Constantine notes the racial disparity in juvenile detention has grown.

African-American youth account for half of the population in the juvenile system, despite representing only 8 percent of youth in all of King County.

With help from the superior court, the prosecutor’s office, public defender, sheriff and King County Council, Constantine reduced the number of detention beds in a new facility being built to create more space for “the primary mission of reconciliation and redemption.”

In order to continue the mission of ending racial disparity in juvenile detention, preventing homelessness, treating mental illness instead of criminalizing it, and partnering with schools, the executive will create a committee that will gather leaders in 19 local school districts and police agencies from 39 Washington cities. It is the future work that these leaders and committee will achieve by way of the proposed levy.

Best Starts for Kids touts prevention, investing early in healthy babies and teenagers and promoting safer communities.

“These are the principles that made it so important to save the Public Health centers in White Center and Northshore, and here in Federal Way and nearby Auburn,” Constantine said. “… And thank you Mayors [Jim] Ferrell and [Nancy] Backus, and the city councils of Federal Way and Auburn, for joining us to save critical services for mothers and infants.”

The levy funds will invest in mental health screenings for all youth in King County, home visitations for new moms and families, universal access to developmental screening, flexible funding for families and youth to prevent homelessness, walkable and connected communities and increased access to affordable healthy foods. All of these strategies are based on the latest brain science being conducted at the University of Washington.

“For decades, we’ve been led to believe we must accept a tradeoff between economic fairness and economic growth,” he said. “This just isn’t true. In a highly competitive global economy where the most innovative companies seek out the most diverse, inclusive workforce — fairness and growth go hand in hand.”

For more information, visit www.kingcounty.gov/beststarts.

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