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Sales tax declines force King County to cut $12 million from mental health funds

Adrian Florez

In King County, a one-third decline in sales tax revenue has resulted in a $12 million cut to a King County fund that pays for mental and behavioral health services. The Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) funds rely solely 0.1 percent of sales tax in King County. The levy was approved by voters.

The MIDD funds pay for things like drug court and counseling. Sarah Durham, who is with the mental health agency Sound, works with clients who benefit from the fund. She says during a pandemic is a terrible time to be reducing behavioral health services.

"We're already seeing increases in substance use, increasing events of domestic violence and the long-term implications of isolation," Durham said.

For more than a decade, Seattle resident Paul Pink has benefited from the tax. He says back in 2009, his life had kind of fallen apart.

“I got into a depression like and nothing seemed to work anymore," he said.

Pink said he was referred to the Sound clinic on Seattle's Capitol Hill. He says talking to counselors there made a huge difference.

“As time went on I started getting better about the way I felt," he said.

Pink also got help with rent and bills that were past due, stabilizing his life.

One of the arguments for the tax when voters approved it was that it would help keep people off the streets and out of jails. The county says it’s trying as much as possible to maintain services to clients, but cuts are inevitable given the decline in tax revenue.

In normal times, taxes generate $136 million per two-year budget cycle for the MIDD funds. King County Council budget chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles says things are likely to get even more "dreadful" next year.  She said it really points to a bigger problem.

“I hate to say this, but our economy is tanking because we are so sales tax dependent," she said.

Kohl-Welles said what’s happened with the MIDD funds, which rely solely on sales tax, illustrates the problem.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.