After rejecting two sources of new funding Tuesday, the Seattle City Council spent Tuesday night and nearly all day Wednesday rebuilding its 2018 budget.
While the bulk of the city's $6 billion budget is determined by the mayor's office and allocated to departments like police and fire, the council has been scratching around the edges for weeks to dedicate more money to homelessness, diversion programs, and other social services.
Without significant new revenue, council budget chair Lisa Herbold said she made "hard cuts" in crafting her latest budget. She and her council colleagues voted on more than 150 budget items Wednesday, passing most of them. They will take a final committee vote on the package Monday morning and then a final full council vote Monday afternoon. More tweaks could be proposed by then. Here are some takeaways from what's been approved so far:
COUNCIL VS MAYOR: The council slashed a total of about $1 million from the mayor's office budget. Those cuts will fund the hiring of new staff in the city's Human Services Department, garbage pickup at unauthorized homeless encampments, legal representation for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and contracting with organizations that provide "community led alternatives to youth detention."
The cuts work out to about 17 percent of the total mayor's office budget, according to council staff. But the council made no comparable cuts to its own budget. That prompted a terse statement from Tim Burgess, a former council member now serving as temporary mayor.
During an "unprecedented period of mayoral transition," Burgess said, the council should be helping Mayor-Elect Jenny Durkan "staff up." (Durkan and Council Member-Elect Teresa Mosqueda will be sworn in November 28.)
"This misguided surprise illustrates the harm that can be caused when significant budget decisions are made on the fly without a thorough analysis of impacts," Burgess said. "If in their wisdom, the Council believes these funds are needed for other purposes, and remembering that the Legislative Department’s budget is twice the size of the Mayor’s budget, then the funds should come proportionately from the Mayor’s Office and the Legislative Department. It’s also important to remember that the Mayor of Seattle is responsible for managing more than 11,000 city employees and directly responsible for overseeing the delivery of city services. The Legislative department has approximately 99 employees." (Herbold disputes Burgess's "twice the size" comment. I'll update this post when I know more. It's also worth noting that the rest of the city's budget is dedicated to all the departments that encompass those 11,000 employees.) UPDATE: In a statement Wednesday night, Council Member Kirsten Harris Talley said Burgess proposed cuts to former mayor Mike McGinn's budget when Burgess chaired the council's budget committee (and the city was in worse economic shape). The council's cuts affect dollars for mayor's office salaries, but don't cut positions altogether. So, Durkan could find new money and bring back those positions in her office down the road. “It is the legislative body’s job to protect and steward the public’s dollars, for the entire city, including the Mayor’s office,” Harris-Talley said. “Anything less than what my colleagues and I offered today in the way of reductions would compromise our ability to meet the most pressing issues of the moment; including management of houselessness and human service provider contracts.”
SWEEPS: Another budget issue that drew scrutiny from the mayor's office was a proposal from Council Members Kshama Sawant, Mike O'Brien, and Kirsten Harris-Talley to block city spending on many homeless encampment sweeps. The proposal would have only allowed sweeps on school property, active rights of way like sidewalks and roads, and certain parks land. But that failed with only the three co-sponsors voting yes. Instead, council members approved a separate sweeps proviso sponsored by Herbold. Herbold's proviso blocks spending on sweeps except when the city follows its own rules for those sweeps. In the ongoing debate over sweeps, advocates have said that despite requirements like giving advanced notice of encampment clearings, the city doesn't always follow its own rules. (This is one claim currently being made by the ACLU of Washington as it sues the City of Seattle over the sweeps.) Herbold's proviso spells out that the city must follow those rules.
THE HEAD TAX: When a proposal to tax big businesses to fund homelessness services and housing failed Tuesday, several council members who voted no pledged to maybe support a different head tax sometime in the future. On Wednesday, the council voted to approve this statement asking the mayor's office to "work cooperatively with the council to develop and participate in a community-led stakeholder engagement process around the establishment of an Employee Hours Tax (EHT) and/or other revenue source." The council is also likely to vote Monday on a more detailed resolution laying out their plan for who will be in that "stakeholder engagement process" and how quickly they'll actually consider a new head tax.
LEAD: The votes against new revenue also affected the successful drug crime diversion program LEAD. While some on the council planned to use the new head tax to fund a $1 million expansion of LEAD into North Seattle, that spending evaporated when the head tax failed. To address that, O'Brien sponsored an amendment to move $750,000 originally directed at programs for people living in vehicles to LEAD instead. O'Brien has led a push to support people living in RVs and cars, whose vehicles are sometimes ticketed or towed for things like parking in the same place for more than 72 hours. But O'Brien said he doesn't think new efforts for people living in vehicles can succeed without an expansion of LEAD. So, he proposed moving the money and the rest of the council voted to support that. O'Brien said LEAD should now address people with parking infractions, along with those facing drug charges.