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Spokane County judge rules sales tax ballot measure's wording must be adjusted

A file photograph of the Spokane County jail in downtown Spokane.
Doug Nadvornick/SPR
The Spokane County Jail in downtown Spokane will be expanded if voters approve a sales tax measure this fall.

A Spokane County superior court judge has ruled the wording of a November ballot measure must be adjusted before it goes to voters.

Voters will be asked to approve or reject a $1.7-billion sales tax measure that would allow Spokane County to expand its current jail downtown and build a new community correctional center to replace the Geiger facility. It would also allocate funding to a palette of criminal justice efforts, including behavioral health.

But the original ballot language said nothing about a jail. As previously reported by Spokane Public Radio, a coalition of racial justice, social and criminal justice groups sued, alleging that absence obscured one of the primary goals of the tax measure.

Tuesday afternoon, Judge Tony Hazel ruled the measure must be updated.

He added the words “correctional infrastructure” to the description of the tax measure’s aims. Hazel said he wrote the language to offer no prejudice in favor of or against the measure’s goals, comply with state law, and adequately inform voters.

Hazel’s decision came less than two weeks before the county’s September 8 deadline to print ballots for the November general election.

Of the $1.7 billion that would be generated by the sales tax increase, a billion dollars would go to Spokane County, and $700 million would be allocated to cities. At least $540 million would be dedicated to the jail expansion and correctional center construction, according to a statement released by county commissioners Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan Wednesday.

If approved by voters, the sales tax increase would take effect in April 2024 and expire at the end of 2054.


This story was updated to include a breakdown of the distribution of funding should the tax increase be approved.