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Best Starts for Kids Tax Levy

Officials Predict Long-term Savings from Best Starts for Kids Tax Levy

by Mark Hennon

(This articles comes to us from an attendee at the June 17, 2015 meeting of the 36th District Democrats)

State, county, and city officials joined with children's health advocates to present the why and how of the Best Starts for Kids initiative June 17 at the Phinney Community Hall in Seattle.

State Representative Ruth Kagi, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, and Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess revealed details of the proposed November ballot measure.

"It's the right thing to do, it's also the fiscally responsible thing to do," Dembowski said of the proposed 14-cent levy per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Jason Gortney of the Children's Home Society of Washington told how toxic stress in young children leads to many physical and mental problems.

And "once they get behind," Kagi said, "they tend to stay behind."

Burgess said better childhood care means "much, much, lower involvement with the criminal justice system."

The five-member panel addressed the 36th Legislative District Democrats monthly meeting, with a spirited discussion following the hour-long slideshow and talks.

Jennifer DeYoung, a health care reform analyst for Public Health - Seattle and King County, said investing in early development prevents chronic disease, abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and other crime.

The time is right, Dembowski said, for "ending the school-to-prison pipeline" that starts with school suspensions, and continues with dropouts, unemployment, reliance on social-welfare programs, and imprisonment--all very costly to the taxpayer. "For a $400,000 home," he said, Best Starts for Kids would cost "about a dollar a week."

State budgetary battles make it unlikely much help will arrive from Olympia this year, Kagi said, but she expressed optimism that legislators may eventually approve a capital gains tax.

The Best Starts for Kids levy would last six years, completing a "continuum of response from early pregnancy to age five and beyond," Burgess said, and extend "proven outcome programs" from Seattle to the rest of King County.

DeYoung said the Gates Foundation is developing one of the programs the initiative may emulate.

The King County Department of Community and Human Services would oversee Best Starts for Kids finances and reporting. According to the proposed King County ordinance, if the King County Council puts the measure on the ballot and voters approve it, community-based organizations could submit competitive bids for outcomes-focused contracts.

Fifty percent of levy revenue would go to help children under age five and pregnant women, thirty-five percent to help children and youth ages five to 24, nine percent to the partnership between King County and The Seattle Foundation on Communities of Opportunity, and the final six percent for evaluation and data collection to ensure delivery of "results for every child in King County."

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