It looks bad for King County. On September 27, King County executive Dow Constantine outlined his plan to close a $60 million shortfall in the county's general fund by eliminating roughly 500 jobs in county government, resulting in over 200 layoffs of county employees. The proposed budget for 2011 guts nearly everything from the general fund except services required by law—namely, criminal justice, elections, and property-tax assessments—and even those services face huge cuts. Constantine called for cutting 12 percent from the budgets of every tax-funded county agency and eliminating all human-­services programs, including aid for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

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Delivering his address in the county council chambers, Constantine conceded that while the budget would be balanced, "it is an imperfect budget, an unpleasant budget."

Cuts to the criminal justice system would include eliminating 71 positions from the sheriff's department, 22 deputy prosecutors, and 42 people from the superior court. More than 50 detectives and sergeants would be demoted back to patrol. This reduction would have a severe effect on public-safety services—school resource officers, marine patrol, investigation of property crimes, homeland security, police storefronts, hazardous materials disposal, and regional gang and drug task forces would all be eliminated.

In addition, Constantine proposed getting rid of juvenile alternatives to incarceration and closing bookings at the Maleng Regional Justice Center (which would force police to shuttle detainees to Seattle). "It's with deep reluctance that we cut these services," said Constantine. "We are not doing right by the most vulnerable."

Ready for a way to soften the blow?

He's got one: If taxpayers approve a November ballot measure to raise the King County sales tax from 9.5 percent to 9.7 percent, all funding for the criminal justice system and human services will be reinstated at its current levels. The measure would raise an estimated $59 million in 2011 and $80 million in 2012. The county would receive 60 percent of the money, while cities would receive 40 percent.

Other cuts (such as some transportation funding) would still be required.

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But not everyone is ready for a tax increase—particularly conservatives and their representatives on the county council. Council Member Reagan Dunn, a Republican who represents southeast King County, praised Constantine's budget proposal but said a tax increase is premature. "I don't think we need to be pushing the panic button just yet," said Dunn.

But even if the sales tax increase passes, Constantine warns that the county can expect a general-fund shortfall next year of $20 million. The council will review Constantine's proposal and vote to adopt a final 2011 budget on November 22. recommended