Looking closer at tax dollars and police funding

David Hartless, Staff Reporter

The topic of defunding the police has recently taken center stage, with #DefundThePolice trending on Twitter and people around the country protesting against police violence. Most people know that their tax dollars are what pay for services like the police department and fire department. However, taking a look inside the Washington state tax code may show that some of the money is used in a way that many taxpayers may not know about.

The money for police departments comes from taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers can see where the money goes by going to the Washington State Department of Revenue website.

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) shows that when it comes to police spending, it has vague restrictions on what police departments can do with it. 

“Moneys distributed under this section must be expended exclusively for criminal justice purposes and may not be used to replace or supplant existing funding,” RCW 82.14.310 reads. “Criminal justice purposes are defined as activities that substantially assist the criminal justice system, which may include circumstances where ancillary benefit to the civil or juvenile justice system occurs.”

This code authorizes counties to administer a 0.10% criminal justice sales tax. This amount is part of the total 10.1% sales tax in Seattle, or the 8.4% sales tax in Ellensburg, meaning 0.10% of that sales tax goes towards the criminal justice fund. 

This tax has few limitations for local governments, except that it must be used on criminal justice activities, section three of RCW 82.14.310 says. 

It does not say what it can be spent on, or how much of it police have to use.

According to the Washington State Department of Revenue, in 2019, Washington state collected over $188 million of sales tax revenue in Washington state. Seattle received almost $30 million and the City of Ellensburg received almost $500,000. 

There is no way taxpayers can clearly see how this money was spent. In an article from The Seattle Times, it states that the Seattle Police Department spent over $34 million in 2019 on overtime. 

Taxpayers may utilize their power to make change by calling upon representatives to amend the RCWs and ask that money be spent in a way that is more transparent overall.