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King County Councilmember Dunn says new paid holidays would cost taxpayers millions

A grill covered with coho salmon during Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrations at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center on Oct. 13, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. That afternoon, former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed a resolution designating the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples' Day. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

In a recent budget vote, the King County Council approved two new paid holidays — Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples’ Day — for the county’s 15,000 employees. Councilmember Reagan Dunn voted against using taxpayer funds to support these holidays, which he said would cost nearly $10 million per day off.

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“What happened was the Juneteenth holiday was initially put forward as a holiday we would honor and celebrate, but not pay our employees, the 15,000 people, to take that day off,” Dunn told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show. “And I was comfortable with that. We want to celebrate a day that’s important to certain cultures. That’s great. But then, in addition to Juneteenth — they’ve decided to make it a paid holiday — they added Indigenous Peoples Day as well, and yesterday was the first time I learned, right as we were about to vote on the budget, that both of these holidays would be added as fully paid holidays.”

“It’s not just not quite $10 million, it’s not quite $10 million times two — $20 million of taxpayer money that will go for two new paid holidays,” he added. “While tens of thousands of people in Washington are out of work, while our hospital beds are full, while 35% of restaurants have gone out of business in Seattle, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Dunn says he appreciates the importance of these holidays, but says adding more cultural holidays is a “slippery slope.”

“There’s a lot of wonderful, special holidays, but we can’t pay the government to take every one of them off,” he said.

“The problem is we, as you noted, can’t honor a paid holiday for every single culturally important event. And if we do, not only will we spend ourselves into oblivion at the local level, there will be nobody at the county to provide critical basic governmental functions for the people. So there must be a balancing act,” Dunn added.

Councilmember Dunn echoed what he read in one comment that suggested everyone gets 10 paid holidays each year, but can choose the days they want to take off.

“They could celebrate it in their own way,” he said. “I think if we’re going to go down this road, maybe that is the only answer. But we need to be very sensitive that we don’t start, every time a particular group wants a holiday, that we don’t decide to honor it by spending another $10 million on shutting down government for yet another day.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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