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King County art tax faces uncertain future

A sales tax to fund arts and culture in King County will not go to voters this summer after all.

King County Council member and budget chair Dave Upthegrove has pulled the proposal from consideration by his committee because he believes it is fundamentally inequitable.

“It’s the wrong proposal at the wrong time,” Upthegrove explains. “The sales tax hurts low income and working class people the most, but the benefits of this proposal were not distributed equitably.”

The measure, dubbed Access for All, would have added a penny sales tax to every ten dollar purchase.

Supporters say it would raise $67 million a year for seven years, funding everything from large arts organizations to the Woodland Park Zoo.

But Upthegrove says only about $400,000 of that would go to South King County arts and culture groups in the first year. He says he can’t support a measure that funnels most of the revenues to established groups in Seattle and Bellevue.

Access for All Campaign Manager Jack Sorenson was shocked to learn Upthegrove had effectively killed the measure before it got a final public hearing at a budget committee meeting scheduled for April 12.

“I can’t believe I have to call a 16-year-old who was planning to testify and tell her Council Member Upthegrove doesn’t want to hear her story,” Sorenson says.

Sorenson isn’t ready to give up on the measure. Technically, King County Council can pull the measure from the budget committee for full council consideration. He believes the sales tax proposal does have strong support from other council members.

But Upthegrove doesn’t agree. He says for all intents and purposes, this particular measure is dead. But that doesn’t mean he’s opposed to the concept of a tax for arts and culture. He’s open to the idea of another proposal in 2018, but this time Upthegrove would like it to be much more inclusive.

“We need to start developing regional arts and culture centers outside the heart of Seattle if we want to have equitable arts and culture in this county.”