Mayor Ed Murray has announced his plan to pay for 200 new police officers and it involves increasing taxes and fees on businesses—something he has recently refused to do for other needs.
The announcement isn't entirely new—Murray has been pledging to hire more officers since he took office—but the funding details come amid neighborhood complaints about property crime north of the ship canal and violent crime elsewhere.
In a statement today, Murray said he wants to add the 200 new officers by the end of 2019. The expansion follows a consultant's report recommending the city expand the force by more than 100 officers. (The police union wants even more.)
Citywide, overall crime (both violent and property crime) has increased over the last five years, according to the Seattle Police Department's numbers. While total crime decreased between 2014, when Chief Kathleen O'Toole was hired, and 2015, violent crime increased slightly during that time. The first three months of 2016 show total crime rates about on par with 2014 but higher than the first three months of 2015. With the new officers, the SPD force would be "the highest in the history of the department," according to Murray's office.
The mayor plans to fund the new hires and improvements to the city's 911 center with a combination of $23 million in existing money and $14 million from increased fees on business.
We won't have clarity on exactly where the existing money will come from until the budget process later this year. Murray's office says it will involve some money already approved by the city council and some "reprioritizing existing resources" (translation: making cuts to other programs).
The new money—the business fees—is where things get interesting. Basically everyone in town wants to make business pay for something. Transit activists have asked the city to tax businesses to pay for bus service. Council Member Kshama Sawant has tried to get a business tax to fund municipal broadband. Unions are currently threatening a ballot measure to make business pay for better enforcement of local labor laws. Murray has resisted all of those, usually backed up by most of the city council.
Earlier this week, Murray rejected the latest demand for a new tax on business by issuing a press release promising to double the budget of the city's Office of Labor Standards, which enforces the city's labor laws. He said he would find the money later this year during the budget process and wouldn't raise any taxes. That won't satisfy labor. The reason unions are so set on a tax is because it would be a permanent funding source, rather than something that has to be haggled over every year when the mayor and city council create their budgets. Service Employees International Union Local 775 secretary treasurer Adam Glickman told me that despite the mayor's promise, they'll keep trying for a new tax or fee.
That brings us back to today's announcement. Murray is now doing what the city's far left often asks for—making business pay—but he's doing it for cops.
Specifically, Murray is proposing an increase in the existing business and occupation tax and the existing business license fee. (These are different from the "head tax" or "hours tax" Sawant and others have called for, but similar in that they vary based on the size of the business.) Murray's office hand picked a couple examples of what his proposal would mean for different sized businesses: "A retail business with $1 million in revenues would pay an additional $70 a year... The smallest businesses would see a license fee increase of $25 a year."
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce opposes increased business taxes for labor law enforcement but could support using them for police. Chamber CEO Maud Daudon said in a statement today that the group is "willing and open to considering" Murray's proposal, which she called a "thoughtful approach informed by careful research.”
I've asked for comment from Sawant (who has repeatedly called for taxing businesses to pay for other needs and repeatedly criticized the amount the city spends on police) as well as Council Member Lorena González (who chairs the council's public safety committee). I'll update this post if I hear back.