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Passing: Education levy, ban on grocery taxes, police accountability

Mayor Jenny Durkan, police reform advocates and Big Soda have reason to celebrate.

The last voters on Capitol Hill rushed to the ballot box outside of Seattle Central College before the 8:00pm deadline. (Photo by Caean Couto for Crosscut)

Seattle’s Education Levy winning by a wide margin

In a resounding victory for Mayor Jenny Durkan on Tuesday, early returns suggested Seattle voters would approve a $620 million property tax to expand the city’s preschool program and provide two free years of community college for high school graduates.    

As the national debate on the affordability of higher education continues, Mayor Durkan said Tuesday, “I think this is one of the best things we can do to invest in a more equitable and affordable city."

The levy replaces two previous measures — for preschool and education programs — that both expire this year and will necessitate an increase in property taxes, from 22.7 cents per $1,000 in assessed value in 2018 to 36.5 cents in 2019. That translates to about $9 extra a month on a median priced house in Seattle. Seniors, veterans and low-income households will be exempted from the property tax.

Durkan said she was “mindful” of the sting of property taxes, but said, “We wanted to make sure that we could make the case that this investment is worth it for Seattle.” She pledged accountability going forward.

In addition to preschool and community college, the levy will also fund a $1.4 million school-based health center at Nova High School and increase the overall number of school-based health centers, from 25 to 29. These clinics provide a full range of medical services, from vaccinations to mental health assessments.  

And it will enable the expansion of the Seattle Preschool Program, increasing the number of 3- and 4-year-old children it serves annually from 1,500 to 2,500.

Finally, the levy will fund academic assistance programs in K-12 schools, such as math or literacy tutoring, and provide resources for Seattle’s growing homeless student population. The levy will also help families experiencing homelessness access childcare.

A celebratory Durkan concluded, “This is a game changer for so many families.”

Ban on soda taxes passing

A statewide ban on taxing food items, put to voters in response to Seattle’s soda tax, is on its way to passing. Billed as a ban on “grocery taxes,” the measure was bankrolled by large soda companies.

In reality, most grocery items are already exempt from sales tax. No municipality in the state taxes the sale of food at grocery stores currently, but proponents argued Seattle’s tax showed local governments could pass taxes on groceries if they wanted to.

Of the $20.3 million in Yes on 1634 campaign contributions, more than $20 million comes from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper and Snapple.

Seattle’s soda tax followed similar legislation in Berkeley, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Oakland and Boulder, among other American cities. After significant lobbying by the soda industry, the California state legislature passed a 12-year ban on new sugary beverage taxes. Michigan and Arizona passed similar bans on local soda taxes after soda industry lobbying.  

Seattle’s tax will remain in place, however. Mayor Durkan said, “I think they carved us out, because if they hadn’t it would have failed.”

Easier prosecution of police officers in comfortable lead

A measure to repeal highly restrictive language around prosecuting police officers in the state of Washington was poised for approval Tuesday, winning by nearly 20 points in the state's initial ballot drop.

In Washington state, it’s all but impossible to prosecute a police officer for shooting and killing someone. Why? The so-called “malice” clause, which says an officer can only be found liable for killing someone if they did so out of malice. If that sounds highly subjective and impossible to prove, it’s because it is. Over 200 people have been shot and killed by police in Washington 2005, but just one officer has been charged.

I-940’s passage is the culmination of years of work to strike the word from Washington state law. The move is unlikely to unleash a wave of new prosecutions, but will bring it closer to a more typical standard used in other states.

Proponents say it opens an avenue for justice; opponents say it will make police second guess their actions.

Additionally, officers will be required to undergo more crisis intervention training and to provide first aid at the earliest possible moment.

The campaign celebrated the win as “historic.” “People of all races support better policing and law enforcement of all races strive to protect and serve their communities,” said the De-escalate Washington campaign in a statement. “You can both support law enforcement and support better policing.”

Reporters Josh Cohen and Lilly Fowler contributed reporting

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Passing: Education levy, ban on grocery taxes, police accountability