Joe McDermott Says His Experience Makes Him The Best Council Candidate
by Jack Mayne
Joe McDermott says there is a lot more pain in the budget of King County and more cuts are inevitable even if county voters approve a stop-gap increase of .02 percent in the sales tax on Tuesday.
He has represented the 34th legislative district in the House of Representatives for seven years and for the last three in the State Senate.
He would have been running for his first full four-year term in the Washington Senate had he not chosen to try for the single last year of the term of former County Council member and now King County Executive Dow Constantine. When Constantine was elected as executive last year, retiring Seattle City Council member Jan Drago was appointed as an interim County Council member after promising she would not run for the office this year. The full four-year term is on the ballot next year.
McDermott says the county can technically balance its budget but he wonders if that is the kind of county the voters want. He says the county has already cut $140 million from the $630 million budget in the last two years.
“Now the county is considering cuts that would end all domestic violence services, reduce the sheriff’s department and reassigning detectives back to the street,” he says. “That means there will be things you call the sheriff’s department for and they will not respond. They will prioritize and threats to life and safety they will respond to first. We are making decisions now that speak to who we are as a society.”
McDermott supports County Proposition No. 1 on Tuesday’s ballot that would allow the Council to impose a .02 percent increase in the sales tax and the money, split 60 percent to the county and 40 percent to cities. The income to the county would go for criminal justice and replacement of juvenile justice buildings. The measure also required $9.5 million must be moved from the county road fund to help finance police protection in rural areas of the county.
He says even if the measure passes, it won’t fill the budget gap but it should keep further justice system cuts from happening.
“So even in the short term and in the future, there will be more cuts in the county budget,” he says.
He is confident the county and the state will recover from the financial crisis and says he hopes there will not need to be more tax increases, that the county can continue other services without new revenue.
McDermott says the county cannot pass off any increases of police services to city who contract with the King County Sheriff’s Department unless there are actual costs involved. There had been some consideration about increasing Burien’s contract fee for police services.
The candidate also thinks the county should provide animal welfare services. The current plan allows cities, as Burien has done, to have their own system or pay higher rates from a county system, he says.
The biggest issue, other than budgetary, facing the county has to do with allocations of transit services, McDermott says, noting that there is no direct financial mechanism for Metro.
He says we should stop measuring the effects of transportation on the number of single occupant vehicles passing over the roads and bridges.
“We won’t get people out of single occupancy vehicles unless we have real transit options,” McDermott says. “Until we have grade separation transit, more buses, more rapid transit buses and more light rail are essential to get people to where they want to go.
“As a rider, I have experienced the results of service cuts firsthand,” he says on his election Web site. “As a legislator, I have heard from constituents about how the cuts have directly affected them.
“I will use my relationships in Olympia to help secure long-term funding opportunities for transit service and infrastructure.”
He says passenger-only ferries are on way to get people out of cars “and routes like the West Seattle water taxi collect as much money at the fare box as bus routes. In geographically constrained districts like ours, it may be more efficient to provide alternative transit options by bringing people across water rather than land.”
But McDermott says as long as transit agencies are financed only by sales taxes and special taxing districts, “transit users will continue to face service cuts. Only long-term revenue solutions will keep transit working for our entire community.”
He says he is “uniquely qualified to bring these solutions to King County.”
McDermott says he thinks it is important to point out his experience by being in the Legislature for the past 10 year. His opponent has never served in office before, he notes.
“I have learned not only about the community’s issues, but those of residents in unincorporated areas,” he says, including Vashon Island and the North Highline Unincorporated area, White Center, all of which “are very different in nature and needs.”
His experience also has taught him about metropolitan area needs, such as for incorporated West Seattle and Burien.
“I have experience weighing the needs of many of the same areas that the County Council needs to weigh.”
McDermott, 43, grew up in West Seattle, attended Gonzaga University in Spokane and got a public affairs master’s degree at the Evans School at the University of Washington.
He says he worked his way through grad school as a grant administrator in the Pierce County prosecutor’s office, then moved to the Seattle School District as a budget analysis, a job he left in the fall of 2002. He has since taken part-time jobs to supplement his income from the Legislature.