A sales tax hike to pay for more police won’t be coming anytime soon in Kent.
Kent city leaders came up empty in their lobbying efforts in Olympia to get legislators to approve a bill that would allow county and city councils to adopt a sales tax to pay for more police officers without going to voters.
House Bill 2211 and Senate Bill 6076 each failed to get out of committee by the legislative deadline, putting to an end this session of potential new funds from the measure for Kent or any other city.
“I’m very frustrated, because I don’t honestly know what Plan B is,” Mayor Dana Ralph said during her Feb. 6 report to the City Council.
Ralph, the seven-member council, Police Chief Rafael Padilla and several small business owners made an all-out effort to get the measure passed to help combat crime in the city. Ralph and others testified in favor of the bills before the House Committee on Local Government and the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
The council directed its Olympia lobbyist to make the sales tax measure her only top priority this session. Typically, the council chooses three or so top priorities.
City leaders wanted legislative approval to raise the sales tax in Kent by o.3% or 3 cents on every $10 purchase with revenue going to a criminal justice fund, with the primary goal to hire as many as 30 more officers. The tax would have brought in an estimated $10 million per year.
“We need resources as a city and we are not the only city that needs those resources,” Ralph said to the council. “We asked legislators to let city councils take a vote.”
State Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, whose 33rd District includes portions of Kent, sponsored the Senate bill. State Rep. Chris Stearns, D-Auburn, whose 47th Legislative District includes parts of Kent, agreed to sponsor the House bill.
“I’m very, very grateful for their support and all of their work,” Ralph said. “The majority of our delegation is in support of this.”
But that wasn’t enough to get either bill out of committee for a floor vote by the House and Senate.
Darryl Jones, a Kent resident who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in November 2023, spoke in Olympia in opposition to what he called the “voter suppression bill” during his testimony.
“It takes away the ability of residents in Kent to vote on whether or not the city can increase its tax rate,” Jones said.
City leaders liked that the tax revenue could have started to flow to Kent later this year so the hiring of officers could begin. Padilla said his staff of 166 officers to serve a city of more than 134,000 would have eventually increased to nearly 200 officers.
Ralph said she doesn’t know what Plan B is, although the council kicked around an option in 2023.
The council discussed at a retreat last year to possibly poll voters about whether they would pay more in property taxes to pay for more police. That proposal disappeared when the mayor and council focused on the sales tax measure, which the council could have approved without going to voters.
Voters rejected in 2018 by 57% to 43% a hike in city utility taxes to 8% from 6% to pay for more police. That would have brought in about $4.5 million a year to hire 23 more officers. Since that failure, no other measures to pay for police have gone to voters.