If Prop. 1 were a character in a novel, the genre would be picaresque, like “Don Quixote” — lurching from one misadventure to another toward its fate. .. Seattle Times

Proposition 1 is on our ballot.  It would add a .1% sales tax and use that money to “support the arts.”  That sounds OK except my problem is not the use of the tax to support art, it is the political machine that has created a pork barrel.

As I see i, Prop 1  is a regressive tax being used largely to support institutions that serve the most affluent of our citizens.  Prop. 1 money can be as much as 15 percent of these big organizations’ annual revenue.

  • In an effort to address the imbalance the Proposition is being sold to the voters based on a part of the money going to induce expensive venues, like Seattle Art Museum, to offer free tickets to poor kids.  The measure does not compel SAM to do this and only requires that 20% of the finds that go to the orgnaization be used in this way.
  • To sweeten the measure politically, money also goes to 300 smaller local arts organizations to subsidize their activities.  These organizations would be free to spend the money on most needs.
  • No funds go to support artists themselves.

A particular example is the $340,000 directed at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.    Langston Hughes’ annual county funding would rise from $42,000 per year to $340,000 per year.I love Langston Hughes.   It sits in a magnificent old synagogue and was created to  serve the needs of the once vibrant Central Area African American community.  I say “once vibrant” because the largest problem facing African American culture in the Central Area is not money for Langston Hughes, it is black flight.  The Central Area is no longer African American.  We are now down to less than 20% and the change to a white millennial world is now likely irreversible.

The story of Langston Hughes is not an exception. King County Proposition 1 — known as “Access for All” that, , would raise an estimated $67.4 million per year for about 350 organizations, chosen to provide balance and support from across King County’s various stake holders.  I looked at the list and, to be blunt, it is a collection of pork, art pork.


(1) Because of a state law passed in 2015, any county in the state can tax itself to create a “cultural access program.”

(2) That program can be funded by up to 0.1 percent sales and property tax, except in King County, which can only use sales tax.

(3) The tax would last seven years before counties would need to ask voters to re-approve it.

(4) The money breakdown: The funds get spent in a specified order, with the pots of money getting smaller at each step: First, 1.25 percent goes to creating an agency to oversee the funds, then 10 percent of the remainder goes to public-school access programs (including transportation to them).  After those funds have been allocated, 70 percent of what remains goes to big cultural organizations with budgets of over $1.25 million and programs for public-school students.

(5) More money breakdown: An estimated 28 percent of the total funds are supposed to go to smaller, “community-based organizations.”

 (6) And another footnote: Prop. 1 money can’t be more than 15 percent of the big organizations’ annual revenue; smaller organizations would have more freedom on how they spend the money.

This list reflects politics that have been well done.  So far, the Access for All campaign has raised $1.6 million and spent around $800,000.  Most of tis has gone to TV ads that tout the entire program as giving free access for students to the big arts institutions.  The same institutions are the biggest donors to he Access for All campaign includigng the Seattle Art Museum, the Woodland Park Zoo, and Pacific Northwest Ballet.  At the same time Prop. 1 doesn’t have an organized, funded opposition campaign even though King County Councilmember Larry Gossett (a Democrat and long term leader in the African American community) and  Sen. Dino Rossi (former Gubernatorial candidate under the GOP banner) authored an opposition statement.

“This is horrifically disproportionate,” Gossett said. “This is asking a huge amount of money from taxpayers for big entities for white, middle-class people.”

“It is a regressive tax, that’s true,” said Jim Kelly, executive director of 4Culture. “But I think the County Council did a pretty good job of amending the bill to alleviate any of the problems.”

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