For Whom Are You Voting?

I spotted an exchange on FaceBook, between a friend of mine and one of his friends. They were chatting about a bunch of the local races and issues on the ballot here in Seattle and King County, and one of the remarks in particular stuck out like a sore thumb:

The writer wanted to vote for whichever King County candidate would freeze the budget and stop growth in spending. Given the current economic climate, that sounds smart, right? But if you wait a second, and think about it – there are a LOT of assumptions built into that vote – and while I don’t know the answers to some of them – we should insist that the candidates for that office does know.

For instance, before assuming that we should spend the same as last year, shouldn’t we know:

  • If the population of King County is greater or smaller than last budget
  • If there has been an increase or decrease in the demand for services
  • If there are more or less people in school
  • If there are more or less workers contributing to the tax base
  • If any increases in the King County budget came from Federal or State dollars
  • Which funds are mandated by laws for which we’ve voted

I’m not a policy wonk, and not very good at math –but I was able to find out that the population of Washington has grown by about 188,695 persons, and King county by 48,900 persons. I didn’t dig deep enough to find out more – do an additional almost 50k people here in town mean that our budget should go up? Are they in school? Are they wage earners? Are they healthy? Are they employed? The answer to all of those questions matter a lot.

So –back to that question. Would it pass the reasonable test if I said to a family of two that they should maintain their grocery budget (not to mention their laundry, clothes, education) when they had a baby or two? Not really – we wouldn’t expect that such a family would continue to make ends meet without increasing their access to goods and services. Maybe dad gets an extra job. Maybe mom does, too. Maybe they get food from a food bank. Maybe they get subsided medial help. Or maybe they are lucky, and their wages rise. If they don’t, though –and if that family stays healthy and fed – the community is helping them.

You can see where I’m headed here – asking for the same (or a smaller) budget isn’t the right question. It’s important – especially now when there is less money. And it’s certainly important to prioritize. But to assume that an increase in spending is bad, and a decrease is good, without answering some of the questions I’ve noted above is silly. As I said, I’m not very good at math, or public policy. That’s why we elect people – so that they can be really good at math and public policy – and can make choices based in the best and most relevant information.

That’s who will get my vote.

Oh. In case you’re interested – you should take a look at a report produced every year by King County. It’s long, but it is broken into chapters. I found this one particularly interesting. We all know that data can be manipulated to say what we want it to, and I don’t know the author. But some things stand out:

  • More than half of the workers in King County don’t make enough to qualify as having a living wage. Let’s argue about that. (That wage, by the way, as calculated in this document, is about $28/hour.)
  • Average wages in real dollars (adjusted for inflation and those sorts of things) haven’t’ changed much in the last couple of years. That means that while prices are going up, wages aren’t.

There’s a lot more there to read. You can find the entire report and read it – might help you decide who will get your vote in November!

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