Triplett’s Executive Incision

County exec hopeful Constantine says he can save the parks.

Interim King County Executive Kurt Triplett, who's not running for office, has become the rhetorical equivalent of a man walking around in tattered clothes carrying a sign declaring "The end is nigh!" Over the past week, he has held two press conferences to propose eliminating 270 positions in county administration (the people who work for the Council and Executive), and various services and programs--like animal control and internal audits--that aren't mandated by the state. County parks in unincorporated areas will also be closed, fenced off, and allowed to grow wild. Altogether, the cuts Triplett announced would amount to about $23.3 million, about half of the $56 million the county has to trim in order to balance its books this year. "These cuts are real, they are deep, and they are likely to be permanent," Triplett said. County councilmembers Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips both praised Triplett for his proposed cuts to internal staff. But they were also quick to question some of the more politically touchy budget slashing. The 39 county parks Triplett is proposing to cut could be saved by offering employees $300 to switch to a significantly cheaper health-care plan, says Constantine, who adds that additional money could be found by encouraging the annexation of unincorporated areas and convincing county workers to take additional unpaid furloughs. Triplett says a similar incentive to switch health-care plans will already kick in on January 1, but that he doesn't expect most people to make the switch since evidence shows people are hesitant to change doctors. His office is predicting about 5 percent of the county's employees will change plans. Meanwhile, Phillips took issue with Triplett's intent to cut $413,000 from the Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management, the office that is supposed to make sure projects are completed on time and on budget. Perhaps more meaningful than what is or isn't politically feasible is whether or not any of the proposals will make headway with unions. Both Triplett's and the councilmembers' plans for balancing the budget this year involve making changes to health-care benefits or asking the unions to take time off without compensation. Triplett says he's still working out what sort of concessions he can get from organized labor, which represents 12,500 of the county's 14,000 employees. And of course looming on the horizon is the question of how the county will deal with a projected $60 million deficit next year. Triplett says his proposed cuts won't solve that problem.

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