This morning, King County Budget and Policy Manager Becka Johnson Poppe announced her run for King County Council District 4, which includes Ballard, South Lake Union, and Belltown. She joins Assistant Attorney General Sarah Reyneveld in the race to replace Council Member Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who worked on the council for two terms and on other political stages for 30 years.
Poppe touted her three years of overseeing half of County’s $15.8 billion budget as a way of distinguishing herself from her opponent.
“If you have no experience with that, I worry about what the next four years look like,” she said of Reyneveld. “I don't know what it's like working in the Attorney General’s office–a lot of litigation? I do know what it's like working at the County. And that is something unique that I can bring.”
With that budgeting brain, Poppe proposed areas where the County could be more efficient with its money, ways it could generate more, and areas where she’d want someone else to foot the bill.
She’s not afraid to make cuts to existing, inefficient programs to fund better ones. For example, she suggested redirecting some money from the Sheriff’s Office to police alternatives that look like the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, OR.
She also understands that the County needs more money if it's going to improve public transit, divert people to crisis care centers, and support the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s five-year plan.
Since the County can’t get as creative with progressive taxes as Seattle can, to increase revenue Poppe hopes to push lawmakers in Olympia to pass a bill to give the County more flexibility when it comes to raising property taxes. She knows they could totally blow her off, so she has other ideas for finding money, too, like creating a countywide Transportation Benefit District (TBD).
A TBD is a quasi-municipal agency that can impose taxes on sales, property, or car tabs to fund transportation in a given jurisdiction. Seattle already has one.
With that money, she wants to pay for more frequent bus service and make bus transit free at the point of service. (If the TBD gets revenue from sales tax, then you’ll be paying for the bus elsewhere). Though she seemed certain the County could figure out free transit for all, she felt less confident about the timeline, saying “the conversation is on the horizon.”
If voters pass the Crisis Care Levy in April, she wants a hand in where the County locates the five crisis care centers it would pay for. She said she would focus on equity, making sure to prop up centers for easy access for the most vulnerable.
She said she’s hopeful that the facilities will help keep people out of the jails, which have seen an uptick in suicide rates since the start of the pandemic. She thinks the best way to prevent suicides in jails is to put fewer people in them. To that end, she wants to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and sex work.
As for the people who go to jail for reasons other than ‘shrooms or sex work—that is, the vast majority—she said she wants to “improve the human experience of people in jail.” She didn’t have specifics on how she could make jail less awful, but she said the County should have been more proactive in vaccinating inmates.
Though she expressed enthusiasm about finding money for buses and crisis care centers, she took a more frugal approach toward the KCRHA.
Earlier this year, KCRHA published a $12 billion five-year plan to address homelessness around the County. The plan faced criticism from Mayor Bruce Harrell, which is not a great sign for the plan’s success; Seattle is KCRHA’s biggest financial supporter, paying for two-thirds of the authority’s budget in 2022. The County funds the other third of KCRHA’s budget.
In theory, Poppe thinks the County should give KCRHA more money. However, given the constraints the state places on county taxing authority, her preferred strategy involves convincing more cities in King County to start paying into the authority, a goal KCRHA has been trying to accomplish for the last two years. She thinks if she shows data that demonstrates the authority’s success to city leaders, then they’ll use their homelessness budgets to support the regional approach. So far, facts and logic have won over Shoreline, Kenmore, Bothell, Woodinville, and Lake Forest Park, leaving 33 cities to convince.
But maybe Johnson Poppe does have some persuasive power–she’s already won endorsements from West Seattle Council Member Lisa Herbold, longtime former Council Member Nick Licata, and Seattle State Rep. Liz Berry.