What’s behind Dow Constantine’s illogical arts-levy proposal?

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed arts levy says a lot about his priorities, writes columnist Jonathan Martin.

King County’s state of emergency on homelessness spreads far beyond Seattle. The opioid crisis stretches across the county, and the county-run mental-health system is struggling with unprecedented demand for involuntary hospital beds.

Looking at those facts, you would say King County really needs … more arts funding? Huh?

County Executive Dow Constantine declared a homeless state of emergency just 17 months ago. Now he wants to throw $469 million over seven years at arts education and free tickets to museums and such. He wraps the request in equity and social justice, that utilitarian poncho of progressives (organic wool, of course).

“By throwing open the doors to all the region has to offer, we ignite more creativity, create more shared experiences, and build a stronger community,” read Constantine’s announcement of the levy proposal, aimed at the August ballot.

As the saying goes, budgets are statements of priorities. If the goal is to “build a stronger community,” start with the basics:

A house, not an opera house, for every kid.

Metropolitan King County Council budget Chair Dave Upthegrove is among those scratching their heads at the priorities. “The other levies are aimed at a problem,” said Upthegrove, a Democrat like Constantine. “What is the problem we’re trying to solve here?”

Upthegrove said the districts he represents in South King County have high rates of free and reduced priced lunches; Highline School District had 1,200 homeless students. “If this really is our strategy to target at-risk kids, this is tone deaf,” said Upthegrove.

King County has limited authority to ask voters for higher taxes. Its general fund budget has been squeezed by a decade of property-tax revenue growth capped at 1 percent growth. As The Seattle Times editorial board recently…

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