You may have noticed that some sort of election happened last week. Possibly, you've been less than attentive to the workings of local government. But a lot has happened at City Hall and the County Courthouse while the world wasn't watching.
At the county, what was an acute budget shortfall is starting to look like a chronic crisis, with a structural deficit threatening all but the very most essential services.
Among the services deemed nonessential: programs that help county inmates get GEDs and jobs, detox and chemical-dependency treatment, the extremely successful Mental Health and Drug Diversion Courts, services for domestic-violence victims, and help for women and children with HIV and AIDS. Although County Executive Ron Sims has put some of those cuts in a "lifeboat" that will stay afloat until June 30, 2009—the deadline the county has given the state legislature to come up with a new long-term, stable funding source to pay for them—the state is facing a $3.2 billion budget problem of its own, and the legislature seems unlikely to be in a giving mood.
At the last of several budget hearings, 63 people stood up and begged the county council to preserve their programs. Some of the most poignant pleas came from survivors of domestic violence, for whom programs like Eastside Domestic Violence Program have made the difference between homelessness and hope.
"For 34 years... no one was aware of the violence in my relationship," one EDVP client told the council. "My husband intended for me to be on the streets and homeless within two months of my asking for a divorce. Without Eastside Domestic Violence, that's where I would be."
So if you were a member of the King County Council, what would you cut? Funding for farmers markets that provide access to affordable, local produce for thousands of families, or programs that literally keep people off the streets? Those are the choices county council members are facing.
The news at the city isn't quite so bleak—unless, of course, you're the mayor. A majority of the council seems prepared to cut back Mayor Greg Nickels's youth violence initiative—which more than one council staffer referred to as "half-baked"—and preserve programs the mayor had targeted for cuts. Among those likely to be spared, at least temporarily, are Get Off the Streets, which focuses on street crime among alcohol- and drug-dependent homeless people; CURB (formerly Clean Dreams), which works with young people in crime-ridden areas; and Co-STARS, which helps homeless people find permanent housing.
The council may also hold off on spending the $82 million the mayor has requested to widen Mercer Street in South Lake Union, cut funding for pedestrian-safety programs, and put planning for a new city jail on hold until the council can determine whether changing the city's approach to drug crimes could make a new jail unnecessary.