Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell unveiled his 2024 budget during a press conference this morning, and it looks like he’s prepared to start the same fights he started last year with a proposal that could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to City programs in 2025 and 2026. Not exactly a visionary, that Mayor!
In his 579-page budget book, the Mayor and his staff stuck close to the draft budget the council endorsed as part of the two-year budgeting process in 2023. As far as highlights go: He advertised a “historic” $334 million investment into affordable housing that depends on the passage of the upcoming housing levy, which is a safe bet. He also proposed $850,000 to set up the new social housing authority (as required by the voter-approved initiative), and he threw the Seattle Department of Transportation and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority a few more million than expected.
Here We Go Again
As far as lowlights go, Harrell reignited his toxic love affair with an ineffective acoustic gunshot locator known as ShotSpotter. It is unclear how much of the funding for the “crime prevention pilot project" budget category will go to the gunshot locator; he only earmarked $1 million for the technology last year. At that time, council members doubted the program’s efficacy, and some worried it would lead to biased policing, as The Stranger reported. (Side note: It's pretty goofy to classify ShotSpotter as “crime prevention” when its use is completely retroactive. The program does not give cops pre-knowledge of shootings so they can pre-respond as good guys with guns, or whatever they believe stops gun violence.)
The budget also includes $26 million for the City’s new dual dispatch response pilot, the Community Assisted Response and Engagement program, which launches in October. While the City brands the program as the “third safety department,” it is not a police alternative. The programs sends both cops and mental health workers to welfare checks and person-down calls, and, as Ashley wrote, the cops can leave if they decide they’re not needed.
It's hard to pretend the City wants to aggressively stand up a response to rival traditional policing when the program includes cops and when the police department enjoys 15 times as much money as this "third department." The Mayor plans to spend the same amount of money–$26 million–for cop pensions alone.
All told, Harrell gave our boys in blue $6.6 million more than the council endorsed for this year, which puts their budget at a grand total of $391 million, or about 23% of the City’s general fund.
As for Workers Without a Monopoly on State Violence...
Last year's budget negotiations made one thing clear: Don’t fuck with human service workers. As I reported back then, he caused a real stir when he proposed pay cuts to the sector, which is literally illegal under legislation that Harrell himself saw pass during his time on City Council.
This time around, he's fucking with these workers less, but only temporarily. He proposed $10 million to pay for a modest 2% raise for human service workers on top of the inflation raises, plus a one-time bonus for child care workers. His proposal would take money from the City's payroll expense tax, dubbed “JumpStart.” The City Council earmarked JumpStart revenue for affordable housing, Green New Deal projects, and economic development, but they made a short-term exception to allow those dollars to balance the general fund in 2023 and 2024.
So, while getting credit for not being such a jerk to workers, he's put the responsibility on the council to do the actual work of finding a permanent funding source if they want to avoid future pay cuts to human service workers. Budget Chair Council Member Teresa Mosqueda said she has some ideas for sustainable funding.
Unsurprising, but Not Unexpected
Harrell ignored ongoing calls to tax the rich in the face of a $251 million deficit projected in 2025 and another $498 million budget hole in 2026. This should not shock anyone because the big business and real estate interests who bought Harrell the Mayor’s Office have spent the last year fighting against efforts to increase revenue.
But the Mayor did jack up taxes on normal people by increasing the floor and ceiling for parking rates. Right now, drivers pay from $0.50 to $5 per hour for parking. Over the next few years, those prices will increase to between $1 and $8. The increased fee on drivers will raise a projected $2.4 million in 2024 and $3.8 million 2025 to maintain the paid parking program.
Of course, this increase will not fill the budget hole, nor is it intended to. But since Harrell has only made minor tweaks to the endorsed 2024 budget, the current council should have plenty of time to discuss possible new progressive taxes. A task force presented a shortlist of options, and Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda asked central staff to write draft legislation for an increase to JumpStart, a citywide expansion to the State capital gains tax, and a tax on the difference between CEO and worker pay.
But with the Mayor quiet on the issue, tax-happy council members may have an uphill battle on their hands.