In his third State of the City Address, Mayor Bruce Harrell said he wanted to go back to the “basics” while still “innovating.” However, given the next moves he said he plans to make, he seems most interested in doing the bare minimum and regressing to please the conservative forces that got him and his new city council elected. 

One Seattle Comp Plan

In perhaps the highlight of his remarks on Tuesday, Harrell announced he would unveil his “One Seattle”-branded comprehensive plan, a document the council will use to help shape Seattle’s growth over the next decade. 

Very cool, however, very late. The City promised the draft in April 2023 but kept kicking it down the road until now, much to the chagrin of housing advocates. 

Beyond saying he’d release the plan in a couple weeks, Harrell didn’t say much in his remarks. He promised his plan would bring “missing middle housing” to every neighborhood. That’s not his idea, of course. The state now requires Seattle to legalize fourplexes and sixplexes in most neighborhoods, whether the Mayor likes it or not

On the housing front, he also said he will soon transmit legislation to the council related to office conversions. That idea may qualify as innovation if you ignore the fact that urbanists have long debated and bemoaned the policy's significant limitations

Levy To Move

In the arena of transportation, Harrell teased the Levy To Move Seattle, which the City must try to renew this year. Again, bare minimum. The Levy To Move Seattle, a nine-year, $930 million levy that funds about one-third of the City's transportation budget will dry up in December. 

Harrell said his plan will emphasize the “basics,” but the basics he outlined seemed to favor car infrastructure. For cars, he promised specifics such as repaved roads, filled potholes, and repaired bridges. For pedestrians and cyclists, he promised “dialogue” about sidewalks, transit, and safety in general. We will see if this rhetoric becomes reality in the coming weeks, when he unveils his levy proposal, which transit advocates want him to triple.

The Deficit

In the last moments of his speech, Harrell finally addressed the quarter-billion-dollar budget deficit that he and the council will have to deal with during this year’s budget process.

In 2022, fans of robust social services saw a glimmer of hope when he and former Council Member Teresa Mosqueda launched a work group to recommend new forms of progressive revenue to fill the gap that threatened critical City programs. After much delay, the task force came up with nine ideas that they did not explicitly recommend because some of the business-aligned members were salty about their failure to totally obstruct their own work. Mosqueda and the previous council failed to pass any of the not-explicitly-recommended recommendations, despite seriously considering a local expansion to the State’s capital gains tax. Instead, they left the budget deficit in the hands of a more business-friendly council that seems eager to appease their corporate donors' wishes for austerity. 

In his speech, Harrell rejected the term “austerity,” but he appeared to promote an all-cuts budget in alliance with big business, corporate landlords, and other monied, conservative power players that got him elected. He added that new revenue would not fix the deficit and argued that the City should “hit reset, revise our budgeting practices,” and “double-down on the programs, projects, and policies that are effective and making the most difference for the people of Seattle.” 

Such an approach will require a “system-wide analysis of every dollar spent,” Harrell said. I asked his office how that differs from his past budgeting processes and I will update if I get a response. 

I also asked his office to clarify whether Harrell supports any new progressive revenue and, if he does not support new revenue, then to say where he would cut. They did not respond.

Harrell’s lack of answers on budget issues leaves his constituents to wonder how he will fund the programs he bragged about and promised to beef up in his speech, such as the CARE Team, the heat pump rebate program, CiviForm, and, most importantly, his plan to hire 1,400 cops out of thin air. He changed the application from paper to digital, so that should do it!