New sales tax increase proposed in King County, this one to help fund arts and sciences in schools

SEATTLE – Between recent tax increases and proposed new levies, King County residents, especially those in Seattle, may be feeling tapped out.

Now comes another one for King County.

According to a press release on the initiative, Access for All would “increase funding for arts, science and heritage institutions to provide in-class learning experiences in every county school district, along with providing students with transportation and free tickets. It will also allow more arts, science and heritage organizations to offer free admission and membership to families and seniors who earn a lower income.”

It’s set to rake in $469 million in seven years if approved.

“I was a little uncertain, it's another tax,” said Jon Felix, owner of Avalon Glass Works.

The artist had just heard about the Arts for All tax Friday morning, and said he was still mulling it over.

“I already feel pretty heavily taxed, but I also was torn,” he said. “I feel like finally there’s a tax that goes towards something important to me personally.”

As a taxpayer, Felix said the 0.1 percent sales tax is a tough swallow, but as an artist the hundreds of millions it would raise for the arts could fan the flames of the next Chihuly.

“It has to do with supporting arts and it’s something that needs more funding,” said Felix about Access for All. "We’re always needing more funding in the arts. We never could have enough.”

King County Council member Dave Upthegrove said he agrees -- King County arts programs need to be funded.

“I love arts and culture, believe they are important investments, but I am worried that the sales tax hits low-income folks the most,” he said. “We have the most regressive tax system in the country and this will make it worse in King County.”

Upthegrove said voting for this sales tax will be a tough sell.

“I want to see where these dollars are going,” he said.

His constituents in the 5th District -- which largely includes the suburbs south of Seattle -- are tapped out financially, he said, and more sales tax often brings more burden on the backs of the poor.

“The details matter. I think people are more willing to support new investments if they have confidence that the money is being well spent and they get a return on those dollars. I want to make sure my constituents are getting a good return on those dollars.”

In King County, the sales tax is already at 9.6 percent, and property taxes just went up again.

“The public’s ability to pay for things is finite,” said King County Assessor John Wilson.

Between school, low-income and public safety levies, plus Sound Transit 3, Wilson said King County voters have seen their property taxes go up.

“Voters have been willing to vote for things that they thought were of community value,” he said.

However, he said another tax may not be the solution to funding problems.

“Our tax system is breaking literally before our eyes,” said Wilson. “It’s a case where combined between the sales tax and property tax, I think people are more and more finding themselves thinking, God, is this really the best way to do it?”

Wilson said serious discussions need to take place across the state regarding the modernization of Washington’s tax system.

Felix said he feels the impact of the current tax culture in King County, but hopes officials and voters don’t hit a glass ceiling on this round of funding.

“I can’t take another real estate tax and the sales tax is already very high, but I think we’re hitting sales tax as hard as we can, might as well take it where we can get it,” he said.

Arts for All needs to pass the King County Council before it would go before voters in August for approval.