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Originally published Monday, February 15, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Another King County sales-tax increase? Enough is enough

The Seattle Times opposes an increase in the sales tax of 0.3 percentage points in King County.

A GENERAL sales tax of 9.8 percent in most parts of King County? Please, no.

With each proposal for the rate to go up comes a compelling reason. For the 0.5-point tax increase in 2008 it was light rail. For the 0.1-point increase in 2007 it was treatment of drug addicts and the mentally ill. Now it is proposed to increase the current 9.5-percent rate by 0.3 points to maintain police protection, courts and jails.

Those are necessary things. Without security, thuggery rules — as was made clear in the recent beating in the Seattle transit tunnel.

But before raising the tax, the county has to make some hard choices. This page has said repeatedly that one of the problems was that county employees paid so little of the cost of health insurance. Starting this year, union employees are paying higher co-pays. They are still not sharing premiums, and they should be.

Sheriff Sue Rahr, who is popularly elected, does not have authority to bargain her own contracts or even talk to unions about pay and benefits. She has asked for that authority repeatedly, and the Charter Review Commission has shown no interest in it. She should have it.

Renegotiated contracts would not solve the whole problem. This page does not have a detailed, prescriptive answer to King County's whole problem. We simply note that every time the pile of sales taxes is made higher, solving one's own problems becomes more difficult.

Yes, the people need police, courts and jails. King County has had them, in some form or another, for more than a century. Until 1970, when the sales tax was 4.5 percent statewide, counties had no sales-tax authority at all.

Now urban King County considers a combined state, local and transit-district rate of 9.8 percent. It is a rate unfriendly to business. It is unfriendly to labor.

It is friendly only to tax evasion. Such a rate makes it enticing to drive three hours south from Seattle, to a place where the sales tax is zero.

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