Human services advocates and members of Socialist Alternative filled the city council chambers today to call on the council to increase funding for fighting homelessness, fund a municipal broadband pilot project, and expand paid parental leave for city employees.
On the whole, things did not go well for them.
Most of the ideas they were backing were brought forward by Council Member Kshama Sawant, and were promptly rejected by a majority of the city council at a budget meeting that lasted most of today.
At one point, as it became clear she wasn't going to get her way on expanding the city's paid parental leave program, Sawant slammed her colleagues who recently won reelection. "You can tell that the election is over," she said.
Meanwhile, Bruce Harrell—self-proclaimed "swing vote" and probably the next council president—was absent for today's vote. The absence was at least somewhat planned, since his office confirmed to me on Friday he'd be gone today. But when I asked why, a legislative aide told me he didn't know. What we all do know, though, is today's meeting has been scheduled since at least mid-September and that at least one proposal died thanks to a 4-4 tie vote.
Still, the council did manage to add a bunch of stuff to the mayor's 2016 budget today, most of it good news for vulnerable people in the city.
Here's a rundown of what lived and died:
• Advocates got a partial win on increasing funding for fighting homelessness. This was the biggest news of the day: The council approved $2.3 million in new one-time money for homelessness.
This issue blew up last week because Licata and Sawant pitched diverting money from the city's rainy day fund toward fighting homelessness. The mayor pushed back hard against that idea, arguing the council should find that money elsewhere. So that's what Licata did, replacing his rainy day idea with new money from real estate taxes. That funding will be in addition to the about $40 million a year the council already spends on homelessness services and the $5.3 million in new money the mayor committed earlier this month when he declared a state of emergency on homelessness.
But Sawant tried, and failed, to take that even further. She proposed adding another $10 million from the emergency subfund (a pot of money in the city's general fund for emergencies like storms and natural disasters). Licata was the only other "yes" vote and the idea failed.
• Public school students on free or reduced lunch will get free bus passes. It'll cost $1 million. Thank Harrell, Sawant, and Mike O'Brien for sponsoring that. (But don't thank Harrell for voting on it since he wasn't there; his colleagues unanimously passed the idea.)
• The city will spend $75,000 on elderly LGBTQ people. That money will go toward training care providers to meet the needs of LGBTQ people. Thank Tom Rasmussen.
• Career Bridge will get $200,000 in new funding. Career Bridge is a jobs program for people of color led in part by the Urban League. Advocates have called for $400,000 in new money for that program. Instead, today the council put $200,000 toward Career Bridge and another $200,000 toward general jobs programs. (Career Bridge can apply for that money, but isn't guaranteed any of it.)
• Municipal broadband is dead. Well, for now. Of course municipal broadband supporters will keep pushing for city-run internet service, but the proposal that would have kickstarted it this year was rejected by the council in a 6-2 vote. Sawant pitched funding a $5 million municipal broadband pilot program with an employee head tax (a per-employee tax charged on businesses) but only she and Nick Licata supported that.
• City employees will continue to get four—not 12—weeks of paid parental leave. Sawant pitched expanding that program to 12 weeks using some one-time money that became available thanks to new tax revenue and some shifting around of money in the budget. But her source of funding was one-time, meaning next year's council would have had to find a way to keep paying for that in the future.
Sawant's point was that if politicians really support the policy, they'd find a way to keep it going in the future; some of her colleagues claimed that was irresponsible. She got four votes for it—including her sometimes enemy Sally Bagshaw—but it failed 4-4. (Could have used you here, Bruce.)
• In true Seattle fashion, the city will study some important stuff. The council approved so-called "statements of legislative intent" to look into a few things early next year, including: Creating a permanent source of funding for the city's Office of Labor Standards, which enforces the city's labor laws; allowing shared parking on Capitol Hill; implementing rent control for small businesses; and addressing congestion on the West Seattle Bridge. The council also approved $10,000 for a study of how to create a citywide paid parental leave program for private sector workers.
Sawant also wanted a study of the creation of an LGBTQ community center on Capitol Hill. Her colleagues opted instead for a plan from Council Member Tom Rasmussen to simply study how all of the city's community centers are serving the "demographics of the community." That disagreement drew a lot of talk and jabs between the two of them, but, in the end, little real action for LGBTQ people or anyone else.
The council is set to vote on the full budget November 23. We may see some of today's failed efforts come back for another vote, but it's unlikely many council members will change their minds between now and then.